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(Pocket-lint) - Ofcom has published a report that shows UK citizens have more than doubled their consumption of mobile data. Brits now use more than 20 million Gigabytes of mobile data on smartphones and tablets every month, up from 9 million Gigabytes year-on-year. Ofcom says that's the equivalent of downloading five billion music tracks.

The UK independent communications regulator has therefore announced plans to release extra airwaves to take the strain and be the first preparatory step as we head towards future mobile network technology, most likely 5G.

It will draw on the 700 MHz frequency band, currently used for digital terrestrial television. And it claims to be able to do so without the need for a further digital TV switchover.

This will also help to harmonise spectrum across Europe and the rest of the world, as Ofcom believes it important "that different countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should in turn reduce prices for consumers".

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Ofcom is also planning to ensure alternative frequencies are available for digital terrestrial television for when the "next generation of mobile broadband is introduced towards the end of the decade".

Movement on this is expected to start around 2018, when an international spectrum has been agreed. DTT viewers may need to retune their Freeview and digital TV tuners, and, in a few cases, replace their roof-top aerials, but the impact shouldn't be any greater than that.

"Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G," said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive.

"Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally."

Pic: (cc) Jennifer Conley

Writing by Rik Henderson.