Ofcom considers spectrum options as UK 4G take-up jumps 67%

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Outdoor 4G coverage was available to 97.8 percent of UK premises, as of May, according to Ofcom, with a high of 98.8 percent of premises in England and a low of 90.1 percent in Wales.

In its latest annual report on the UK communications market, the regulator said take-up of 4G services had increased to 48 percent of UK adults, or 39.5 million people, by the end of 2015, up by 67.3 percent on 2014.

In total, 46 percent of mobile connections were for 4G services, it said.

The proportion of 4G connections tripled between the start of 2014 and the end of 2015.

Take-up of 4G services was highest among 16-24 year olds (71 percent), and lowest among over-55s (20 percent).

Average UK 4G download speeds in 2015 were 17Mbps, almost three times faster than the 6Mps average on 3G.

The availability of 4G, combined with multi-tasking, means 16-24 year olds are now able to cram 13 hours and 11 minutes of web activity into just under nine hours.

Indeed, given the growth in mobile data, expected to increase by as much as 31 times by 2020 in Western Europe, Ofcom suggested new spectrum would be required in short course, especially with the advent of new technologies such as MIMO and the era of 5G networks.

“As most spectrum is occupied, we have to consider moving one service to make way for another; for example, squeezing up TV to make more spectrum (700MHz) available for mobile,” it said in the report.

“We are already looking at the spectrum needs of 5G, which will provide higher capacity networks that are more responsive and can offer faster speeds.

“This will open up a new range of frequencies in the millimetric bands – an area of spectrum in which satellites provide TV, radio navigation services, support for emergency services, and broadband for very remote locations, on land, in the air and at sea.”

Specifically, it called for both short range and high bandwidth spectrum for connected vehicles, which is harmonised across international markets.

It also said that control of electricity power stations and the grid may yet require a dedicated secure wireless network, and dedicated spectrum in tandem. Equally, it said new satellite technologies require international rules around effective use of spectrum.

“It is like a three-dimensional jigsaw where the picture is always changing.

“Spectrum is an area where international collaboration is essential; radio waves do not stop at international borders, so countries need to agree which services particular frequencies are most likely to be used for.”

The total number of mobile subscriptions, including M2M connections, increased by 1.8 percent to 91.5 million during the year.

The jump was mainly down to a 0.8 million increase in the number of mobile voice connections, and increases of 0.4 million in both the number of M2M and dedicated mobile broadband connections.

Ofcom said growth of seven percent in M2M connections, which reached 6.7 million by the end of 2015, has come as IoT devices have started to enter the market.

Total M2M connections were more than double the 2010 total, of 3.2 million.

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of businesses’ dedicated data subscriptions were M2M connections by the end of 2015.

In total, UK telecoms services generated £37.5 billion in revenues in 2015, up 0.5 percent compared to 2014, and 7.5 percent down on 2010.

It was, however, the first increase in revenues for the sector in five years.