Although the 4G spectrum auction is yet to take place, Ofcom is making preparations to cope with the demand for services like video streaming that it estimates could be 80 times higher by 2030.
Ofcom’s latest communications infrastructure report shows that 20m GB of mobile data is being consumed every year – 245Mb per person and equivalent to downloading 5bn music tracks – more than double the 9m GB seen last year.
Although this is currently less than fixed broadband, mobile internet is growing more quickly and will be accelerated by the adoption of 4G services. 5G services may need to draw on the 700 MHz frequency band, currently used for digital TV.
This will make the UK part of a European and global network, creating economies of scale and reducing the cost of handsets to consumers. Ofcom says this could be done without the need for another digital switchover.
Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, said: “Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally.”
Hotspots and ‘not spots’
The communications infrastructure report showed Ofcom’s first ever map of public wi-fi hotspots. There are 16,000 access points across the country, although consumers seem to prefer using their mobile network for internet access, as around 25 times as much data is downloaded over mobile networks compared to these wi-fi hotspots.
The number of 3G ‘not spots’ – where people can get no 3G signal- has fallen from 1.2 per cent last year to 0.9 per cent in 2012. 0.3 per cent of premises are in ‘complete not spots’ – with no access to voice services on 2G. The Government has committed to spending £150m to give 75 per cent of the these premises mobile access.
77.3 per cent of premises now receive 3G signal from all mobile operators, up from 73.1 per cent a year ago. One of the 4G licences will require a service to be made available to at least 98 per cent of people across the UK.