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Ofcom confirms mid-2020 target for reallocation of spectrum in 700MHz band

Spectrum in the 700 MHz band will be made available for mobile data services by the end of June 2020 at the latest, the UK's telecoms regulator has announced.

Ofcom said that digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services would, subject to conditions being met, be allowed to continue to operate over the same band of frequency until at least 1 May 2020 and potentially beyond that deadline if it can be demonstrated that running DTT and mobile data services over the same frequency band would not result in interference.

Users of wireless microphones used in programme making and special events (PMSE), such as theatre and musical productions and at sporting occasions, will, however, be shifted on to other frequencies by 1 May 2020, Ofcom said. The UK government will provide funding under a grant scheme to support the migration of PMSE services to other frequencies.

"We have taken a spectrum management decision that we will work to accelerate the programme by 18 months and release the 700 MHz band in Q2 2020," Ofcom said. "We have decided that 20 MHz of spectrum in the part of the 700 MHz band known as the centre gap, should be allocated for use by mobile data (specifically mobile downlink). Linked to this, we have also decided to allow the interim multiplexes to continue operating in this spectrum until at least 1 May 2020, or until mobile downlink services in this spectrum are deployed."

"As a result of these decisions we are serving notice on PMSE users that operate in the 700 MHz band that from 1 May 2020 they will no longer have access to spectrum in this band to deliver their services," it said.

Ofcom's statement (52-page / 576KB PDF) broadly confirm plans it consulted on earlier this year. If the Q2 2020 timetable for mobile data services over the 700 MHz band is adhered to it would mean that the UK would align with deadlines set out in proposed new EU legislation on the reallocation of spectrum in the 700 MHz band.

The regulator's plans for reallocating the 700 MHz band for mobile data services were first outlined in 2014. It said that initially it had thought it would not be possible to complete the reallocation process until the end of 2021 at the earliest, but that it has since identified a way to fast-track the work.

According to Ofcom, Arqiva and Digital UK had lobbied for the reallocation of the 'centre gap' spectrum to be delayed until the end of 2022. It played down potential technical challenges and said it anticipates there will be "demand to use the centre gap for mobile data by Q2 2020".

The regulator said that continued use of the 700 MHz band for DTT services beyond 1 May 2020, alongside mobile data services, would depend on Arqiva satisfying it that the risk of interference to services could be overcome.

Ofcom said: " We consider that there is a significant risk DTT services in the centre gap could be vulnerable to interference from mobile services in the paired spectrum. Allowing the interim multiplexes to operate until mobile data services in the centre gap switch on would be subject to Arqiva satisfying us that it will take appropriate steps (at its own cost) to manage the impact of such interference. Allowing the interim multiplexes to continue operating after 1 May 2020 would also be contingent upon Arqiva demonstrating to us and the mobile licensees that they could operate in the centre gap without causing harmful interference to mobile services in the paired spectrum."

"To date Arqiva has made a number of arguments as to why such interference would not occur. However, they are predicated on a range of assumptions which Arqiva has not yet validated. Arqiva would need to present further evidence to substantiate its position before we were satisfied that there is no risk of harmful interference," it said.

The 'paired spectrum' Ofcom refers to is the two 30 MHz blocks of spectrum that sit either side of the 25 MHz centre gap spectrum. The paired spectrum was previously allocated by Ofcom for mobile data services.

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