98% of UK on course for 4G by 2017 as Ofcom clears spectrum

4G services will soon be available to 98 per cent of the UK after telecoms regulator Ofcom cleared a “large section of radio spectrum” five months ahead of schedule.

The four-year process to clear the 800MHz of TV transmissions will be completed on Wednesday and allow 4G mobile broadband to reach almost all of the UK population by 2017.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “This week we are clearing the path for 4G mobile broadband, allowing mobile companies to provide coverage across the UK.”

He continued: “4G services will reach 98% of the UK population indoors – and even more when outdoors – which will provide a significant boost for rural businesses and consumers.”

Engineers performed transmitter upgrades at 600 sites to clear the airwaves with TV viewers having to carry out retunes to complete the process. Wireless microphones have also been upgraded to use alternative frequencies and leave the 800MHz spectrum free for 4G.

It was necessary to clear the spectrum due to its close proximity to the UK’s Freeview signal, with Ofcom initially predicting up to two million homes would experience TV disruption as a result. The figure was eventually scaled down to 90,000 properties.

Although the 800MHz auction in February didn’t achieve the price Ofcom had hoped, Culture Secretary Maria Miller confirmed that 4G is a “key part” of the Government’s strategy to “equip the UK to succeed in the global race”.

“Completing the clearance of the 800MHz band means mobile companies can roll out their services across the UK and help deliver the £2-3 billion a year boost to the UK economy we anticipate from 4G,” Miller added.

EE is the one network to have already launched 4G services albeit on a different frequency band – 1800MHz – and won rights under the 800MHz spectrum along with Vodafone, Three and Telefónica UK (O2).

Ofcom has placed an additional obligation on Telefónica UK (O2) to cover 98 per cent of the UK indoors by 2017. The telecoms regulator also confirmed a high-capacity section of the spectrum – the 2.6GHz band – will be ready in most areas by the autumn once some air traffic control and radar systems have been upgraded.