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Laurie Clarke

Reporter

Airwaves freed up for 5G and rural coverage in infrastructure ‘major milestone’

What is being heralded as a “major milestone” in digital infrastructure has been achieved as radio waves previously used by TV have been freed up for 5G and mobile coverage in rural regions.

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman announced today the completion of a four-year, £350 million infrastructure project to clear the 700 MHz spectrum band – a low frequency suited to carrying mobile signals over long distances and into buildings. The programme involved more than 20 million television sets being re-tuned to receive Freeview channels on lower frequencies.

“We have overseen a quiet revolution in the airwaves which will lead to better mobile coverage for rural communities and unlock new ways for 5G to boost business productivity and improve people’s lives,” said Warman.

Mobile operators will be able to bid for the newly freed up airwaves from January 2021 – giving 20 per cent more capacity for mobile services, something that is being billed as an opportunity to improve patchy rural coverage.

Rural areas have suffered in terms of mobile coverage compared to their urban counterparts. Ofcom finds that 9 per cent of the UK still has poor 4G access, and that most of these are rural areas. Reasons for this include the increased costs for mobile network operators to set up in these areas, compounded by lower return on investment due to sparser populations, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).