Despite the dust having only just settled on the UK's 4G spectrum auction, the UK is taking the first, tentative steps towards a 5G future.
Ofcom is opening up what it describes as a "call for input" from industry in the coming weeks. The call for input (think of it a bit like a pre-consultation stage) isn't centred around 5G specifically; it will actually be an investigation into possible ways to clear the 700MHz spectrum band for any future use, although that could well end up being for 5G data services.
It's a long road to the next-generation of data services — Ofcom said the form 5G could take hasn't even been decided yet; it could be a technology, or it could be a standard. But the regulator did confirm that the call for input which will tackle related issues, such as that 700Mhz band, would go out soon.
The 700Mhz band is currently used for digital terrestrial television (DTTV), which means that the regulator needs to know what to do in order to shift this onto a different band.
The reason it is making such an early start on 700MHz is essentially contingency planning for 2018 in case the ITU makes moves towards harmonising the 700Mhz band globally for the next generation of mobile data, which it could well do.
Talks are already underway for the European harmonisation of the 700MHz band and several countries already use it for 4G LTE.
In that situation, knowing how the 700MHz band would be cleared, for example, by shifting DTTV onto 600MHz and making sure homes had the correct aerials to continue receiving service, would put the UK in a good position for rolling out next generation data services that are globally harmonised.
5G deployment is still a long way off, and even getting the 700MHz band cleared for any usage by 2018 would take significant cooperation from industry, but with research already underway into 5G from the likes of Telefonica, Samsung and Huawei being run at the University of Surrey, the UK is placing itself well to be at the next forefront of mobile data, rather than following on the coattails of other countries, as it was with its 4G rollout.