Regulator Ofcom is preparing the ground for the relatively quick introduction of 5G mobile services to tackle what it sees as a future "capacity crunch".
Over 10 years ago, before mobile 3G was widely used in the UK, there were media chortles about standards bodies mooting the prospect of 4G, which is now here.
At the time UK mobile users were still getting their heads around getting the best use out of 2.5G network services like GPRS and EDGE - which are still very much alive on entry level smartphones. Such services are also used by mobile operators as back-up networks when there aren't enough 3G bars on higher performance smartphones.
But with many users now expecting to view video clips, watch live TV and play interactive games on their mobile devices as part of standard smartphone data packages, the days of 4G seem to be numbered before it becomes widely available.
Although faster 4G services are not expected to be fully available until this summer - much later than other countries like Japan and Korea, Ofcom now seems to be determined to get the UK on a better war footing when it comes to 5G.
The introduction of 4G came late to the UK because the mobile operators were arguing over standards and the terms of spectrum license auctions through Ofcom.
It was only when Ofcom allowed EE, the holder of the Orange and T-Mobile brands, to launch 4G with existing spectrum, that the rest of the mobile operators came quickly into line to prepare for the 4G spectrum auction, so that they could launch their own rival 4G services.
Now, the Financial Times reports that Ofcom will this week launch an industry consultation about freeing up spectrum for 5G, to allow the UK to catch up with other countries on the mobile communications front.
Steve Unger, chief technology officer at Ofcom, told the Financial Times: “There are three ways to meet the demand for more data – more spectrum, better use of spectrum and more cell sites. We need to progress on all three fronts, which is in effect what we mean by 5G, to meet the 80-fold increase in data usage we predict by 2030."
Unger added: “We expect 5G will be about making mobile data ubiquitous – you won’t lose reception, or worry that your service will be too slow. It will always be there, always reliable, to the extent that it will become a fixed line substitute.”
The FT says the consultation launch coincides with a European Wireless Conference this week at the University of Surrey, focused on using 5G technologies to solve an impending “spectrum crunch”, that academics predict when radio space becomes fully used by 2020.
The University of Surrey was awarded £35 million in funding last year from the government and the mobile operators to help develop 5G mobile services.
The University predicts that data traffic over mobile devices is expected to increase globally 1,000-fold by 2020, and as a result mobile blackouts and patchy services could be prevalent in major European cities as they "run out of capacity by 2020".
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