Broadband upgrade to raise data limits for smartphones
Mobile phone users may soon get a boost as more mobile broadband bandwidth is set to be released by the telecoms operator.
The move could lead to higher data limits for smartphone users and less pressure on operators to keep monthly limits at low levels.
The telecoms regulator, Comreg, is set to begin the process shortly after receiving a consultants' report recommending that specific bandwidth -- which allows more internet data to be used -- be auctioned off among mobile operators here.
The spectrum involved, 2.6GHz, was formerly used by UPC for its MMDS licenses for regional broadband access. It allows for more internet traffic than other spectrum frequencies currently used by mobile operators.
At present, many Irish smartphone users are struggling with monthly mobile internet limits of 1GB or 2GB. Meanwhile, operators that offer "unlimited" monthly data often cut it off at 7.5GB, a low 'maximum' level by international standards.
Comreg says that our use of mobile internet is currently rocketing by 50pc a year, while Irish industry statistics show a 21pc swing to smartphones away from PCs for internet use.
Mobile operators here are coming under pressure to reverse their ailing financial fortunes brought about by use of services such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. However, the surge in Irish mobile users' internet use has meant bigger bills for operators as they try to keep up with soaring data and equipment costs.
British authorities auctioned off the same type of mobile spectrum last year, leading to a bump in mobile broadband infrastructure.
"This is expected to lead to faster mobile broadband speeds, lower prices, greater innovation, new investment and better coverage," says Britain's telecoms regulator, Ofcom.
Irish authorities are expected to auction off the 2.6GHz mobile broadband spectrum sometime next year, with mobile telecoms firms set to lead the bidding. However, there is no expectation of a windfall to the Irish Exchequer, as occurred when Comreg auctioned off 4G spectrum to operators in 2012 for over €850m in upfront payments and annual fees.
Senior Irish executives also caution against an instant impact on current data allocations from the new spectrum. "This is a different country to Britain, which has 60 million people and a lot more pressure on the existing bandwidth," said one. "We're not currently facing the same capacity pressures as they are."
2.6GHz is most likely to be used in high density urban areas and cities. Although it can take more internet traffic than other spectrum frequencies, it can only be used in shorter distances. This makes it unlikely to be used as a rural broadband substitute. However, international agencies have recommended its adoption in Ireland and other countries.
"It is particularly important that governments allocate this for mobile broadband services," according to a statement from the mobile industry GSM Association. "As well as offering a major increase in capacity, the 2.6GHz band has the potential to be used for mobile broadband services worldwide, providing equipment makers with global economies of scale, enabling them to lower the cost of devices and network infrastructure."
The government is currently conducting a "mapping exercise" to determine which rural towns and villages should be included in a state-subsidised national broadband plan.