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700MHz Clearance - OFCOM Statement

The statement serves as notice that PMSE users will have to vacate the band no later than May 2020.

Ofcom's statement sets out two decisions, they are:

  • 1. Ofcom will work to accelerate the 700 MHz clearance programme by 18 months and release the band in Q2 2020.
  • 2. The Centre Gap will be allocated for use by mobile downlink at the same time as the 700 MHz paired spectrum. Unless there is slower mobile uptake of the newly available spectrum than expected, DTT will have access to the Centre Gap until 1 May 2020.
Implications for the PMSE industry

Ofcom does not agree that the acceleration of the clearance will present a shortage of spectrum as they expect that manufacturers will have produced equipment that operates in the 960-1164 MHz band by Q2 2020:

"We are aware that a major wireless microphone manufacturer and a major PMSE stakeholder are currently testing prototype equipment in the 960-1164 MHz band. We understand that these tests are progressing well to date and suggest that there are no major technical hurdles which would prevent equipment operating in this band from being on the market in advance of an accelerated clearance.

We recognise that acceleration will mean there is less time for users to test equipment before they need to bring it into regular use. However, we consider that even under this accelerated timeline there should be time for users to test their new equipment sufficiently. We note that to date the tests have not provided any evidence that equipment in the 960-1164 MHz band will operate in a fundamentally different way from equipment in the 700 MHz band. For example, the tests show that the 960- 1164 MHz band has broadly similar propagation characteristics to the 700 MHz band. We therefore do not agree that there is a major risk of additional disruption when theatres and other PMSE users start to bring this equipment into use."

Notice to PMSE users and funding for PMSE equipment changes

The statement constitutes formal notice that access to the band 694 to 790 MHz will cease to be available for use by PMSE from 1 May 2020. As part of its funding for the 700 MHz clearance programme, Government has agreed to fund a grant scheme to support PMSE users who will have to vacate the 700 MHz band earlier than expected. DCMS has asked Ofcom to set up and oversee this scheme and Ofcom will consult on the details later this year. The consultation will include proposals regarding the type of equipment and users that will be eligible for funding. Ofcom anticipates that the grant scheme will launch in 2019.

The Centre Gap

Ofcom have decided to make 20 MHz of the centre gap available for mobile downlink transmission to cater for the growth of mobile data traffic, which has been growing by 60% per year. Ofcom opted for downlink only because the downlink to uplink ratio in a data driven network is now about 7:1, an asymmetry that is not adequately reflected in current spectrum provision. In practice this is likely to mean the centre gap is used for SDL band 67. However, in theory it could refer to other technologies, such TDD downlink only services or MBMS.

PMSE services were overlooked for the centre gap because Ofcom believes that the provision of the 960-1164 MHz band will meet the industry's demand for spectrum. Ofcom rejects arguments regarding the technical and commercial viability of the new spectrum:

"Based on the available evidence we therefore do not agree that there is uncertainty around the technical viability of the band. We remain of the view that this spectrum, along with the remaining 470-694 MHz band, adequately provides for the needs of PMSE and we do not consider that allocating the centre gap to PMSE would be an efficient use of the spectrum.

We cannot know for certain what commercial decisions manufacturers will take about whether to produce equipment that operates in the 960-1164 MHz band. However, two major equipment manufacturers and one smaller manufacturer have expressed an interest in using the band. One of the equipment manufacturers is now trialling prototype test equipment and another is looking to start trials in the near future. Based on manufacturer activity and sentiment to date, on balance we consider it likely that manufacturers will develop and bring to market equipment that operates in the 960-1164 MHz band."

Ofcom decided against deferring the reallocation of the centre gap until 2023 for two reasons:

  • 1. There is a risk of the interim multiplexes causing interference to mobile data services in the paired part of the 700 MHz band.
  • 2. Ofcom's working assumption is that the opportunity cost of delaying the launch of mobile services in the centre gap is higher than the value of spectrum being available for DTT between 2020 and 2023.
Therefore Ofcom consider that releasing the centre gap at the same time as the paired spectrum is optimal use of the spectrum.

Next Steps
  • Ofcom will initiate the process to vary the interim multiplexes licence to change the frequencies they use from July 2017 onwards in order to give effect to the decision to accelerate the clearance programme.
  • In August 2017 Ofcom will review the progress of infrastructure work and the target accelerated clearance date of Q2 2020.
  • Ofcom will continue working with Government as it considers what viewer support programmes might be necessary as part of the 700 MHz clearance programme.
  • Later this year Ofcom will consult on the details of a grant scheme to disburse funding to support PMSE users who have to vacate the 700 MHz band earlier than expected.
You can read the full statement here: