Digital infrastructure revolution to bring benefits of 5G closer

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The next step in the UK’s infrastructure revolution has been completed to open up more of the nation’s radio waves to improve rural mobile coverage and deliver the revolutionary new benefits of 5G technology.

UK’s Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman is expected to confirm the milestone completion of the four-year £350 million major infrastructure programme to clear the 700 MHz spectrum band.

Spectrum is the airwaves over which televisions, mobile phones, tablets, radios and other devices communicate. Clearing a portion of the spectrum in the 700MHz frequency means that new data capacity is released for mobile operators.

Data use is only set to grow as 5G, the next generation of mobile connectivity, becomes more available and is used for an increasing array of new services and applications.

The 700MHz spectrum band had mainly been used for digital terrestrial TV broadcast (Freeview) 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 their TV channels on lower frequencies the 700MHz band is exclusively available for mobile use.

This will allow mobile operators and other innovative companies to use 5G to develop new high data usage technologies and services to boost sectors such as manufacturing, transport and healthcare.

The low frequency of the 700MHz spectrum band is ideal for carrying mobile signals into buildings and over long distances – including the countryside. The clearance will increase capacity in today’s 4G networks helping level up rural communities with greater mobile coverage, reach, and reliability.

Releasing these airwaves will help increase the total amount of the radio spectrum available for mobile services in the UK by nearly a fifth (18%).

“The smooth and successful completion of this massive infrastructure project ahead of schedule and under budget is a huge testament to the collaborative efforts of our partners,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman. “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.”

Around 1,000 workers from organisations including Arqiva, Ofcom, Digital UK, Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL) and the multiplex operators spent more than 2 million hours clearing the spectrum.

This saw changes made to more than 1,200 television transmitter sites in some of the farthest flung reaches and on top of some of the tallest structures in the country.

In many cases it involved engineers physically replacing antennas at the top of masts. The antennas can weigh around six tonnes and lifting them involved significant engineering feats using cranes, and sometimes special ‘Heli-Lift’ helicopters.

Works included building a new temporary mast to stand alongside the iconic Emley Moor Tower in Yorkshire, which is taller than the Shard. At 1,040ft (317m), the temporary mast alone stood as Britain’s seventh tallest structure.

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