The bidding for a newly available radio frequency to be used by mobile network operators to deliver a range of services, including 5G mobile, is to begin next month, and is the likely precursor to massive investment in 5G mast construction and mast upgrades.
The auction of the 700MHz spectrum will pave the way for mobile operators to increase the capacity of their services by as much as 20%, particularly in rural areas, where coverage and reliability has previously been patchy. It was cleared as part of the UK government’s four-year £350MN major infrastructure programme.
Initially planned for January this year, Ofcom delayed the auction until March due to the “ongoing coronavirus situation”.
The newly available 700MHz spectrum band had previously been used for the Freeview digital TV broadcast service, as well as professional radio microphones used in music studios, theatres and outdoor events. Now that 20 million homes have successfully re-tuned their TV equipment to continue to receive channels on lower frequencies, the 700MHz band is exclusively available for mobile use.
Although 5G will be an enabler for superior data management - and the Internet of Things (IoT) to help enable smart devices, healthcare devices, connected buildings, vehicles, transport infrastructure, and everyday items such as home appliances - it is mobile communication that will drive early adoption, while IoT is in its infancy, and that has been stopped in its tracks by the pandemic.
COVID-19 struck just as 5G was gaining some traction in the UK, however as mobile operators tend to deploy networks to meet anticipated demand, that demand was almost totally obliterated by national lockdowns, home working, a ban on social activities, and severe travel restrictions.
One of the key differentiators of 5G is its better capacity in congested areas, so when attendance of crowded events and traveling through busy train stations and airports went out the window, so did much of the demand for mobile 5G.
So, as the world looks forward to a recovery from COVID-19, so too does the telecommunications industry and specifically the operators behind 5G.
With one of the key selling points for mobile 5G being better capacity in congested areas, it’s not surprising that the heaviest density of new and upgraded masts will be located in and around major conurbations such as London, Manchester, Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Leeds. Outlying regions including Cumbria, Devon, Cornwall and South Wales have a much smaller proportion but we expect this to increase as operators gain access to the newly available 700MHz spectrum next month, and start work to deliver on the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
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