DigiTAG seeks to inform members and non-members about important developments in the digital terrestrial television market. Each month, DigiTAG distributes its web letter with news updates and further exploration of one topic.
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The beginning of the end of terrestrial television in Europe?
National administrations attending the recent World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-12) last month surprised many when they agreed to make frequencies in the 700 MHz band available for mobile telecom services in Africa, Europe and parts of Asia as of 2015. Many expected that such discussions would take place at the next WRC in 2015. Instead, following a proposal from national administrations in Africa and parts of Asia, mobile telecom services will be given co-primary status alongside broadcasting in the frequencies from 694 - 790 MHz after the WRC 2015.
In preparation for the next WRC, the ITU has been asked to look into the spectrum requirements for mobile and broadcast services in the 700 MHz band, the channelling arrangements for mobile services in that band, and compatibility issues between mobile and broadcast services.
Broadcasters and other service providers on the DTT platform have reason to worry about the long-term future viability of the platform. Since the onset of digital switchover, the frequencies used by the DTT platform have slowly been whittled away in Europe. With the recent decision made at the WRC-12, fears are now emerging that the process will continue, and the question being asked is ‘What will remain of the UHF band for the DTT platform?’
The decision taken at the WRC-12 to make the 700 MHz band available to mobile telecom services highlights the growing pressures on the DTT platform to share (or relinquish) its frequencies. The telecom industry appears to have an insatiable appetite for UHF frequencies and has successfully demonstrated the expectation for significant demand in mobile data capacity.
While national administrations will ultimately decide how much, if any, of these frequencies will be allocated to mobile broadband operators, the possibility for doing so remains. Neighbouring countries must find a modus operandi between those who allocate the 700 MHz band for broadcast services and those who allocate the same frequencies for mobile broadband services. In Europe, such allocations could begin in 2017.
Should national administrations agree to allocate the 700 MHz band to mobile telecom operators, the amount of frequencies available for broadcast services will be significantly reduced (by 20 channels from an original 48) which, in turn, limits the opportunities for innovation possible on the platform. It becomes all the more difficult for the DTT platform to accommodate additional television programme services, high-definition or 3D television within the limited capacity afforded by the remaining frequencies. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for the DTT platform to compete with other television delivery platforms. It also entails significant costs for frequency re-planning as broadcast services currently in the 700 MHz band must be re-assigned and re-engineered. Viewers must also be given sufficient notification about such changes to the DTT platform in order to make suitable preparation, and must be given protection from interference.
Already, governments in Europe have agreed to make the 800 MHz frequency band available for mobile services. Some have begun auctioning the licenses, despite the interference that will be caused to some viewers as a result to their proximity to a mobile base station. In the United Kingdom, the government has pledged to make available £180 million to help the estimated 2.3 million households that are subsequently expected to lose their television services due to interference.
Strategies for the future use of the whole UHF frequency band are also being considered. In Finland, the government is in the process of developing its strategy for the UHF band which could leave an uncertain future for the DTT platform. Nearly all licenses to broadcast on the DTT platform have been set to expire in 2017. This provides the government with an opportunity to reconsider the use of the frequencies and potentially re-assign frequencies depending on the importance it gives to the DTT platform and its viewers. This is despite the reliance that over 50% of the population currently place on the DTT platform.
Viewer demand for DTT
Despite the attempts to reduce the frequencies available for the DTT platform, it remains the cornerstone for the delivery of live television services. The first television platform made available to viewers, the terrestrial platform continues to attract high numbers of viewers with its attractive service offering, widespread coverage and the convenience of reusing existing roof-top antennas with built-in DTT tuner in all new television sets.
While alternative television delivery platforms, such as cable and satellite, have eroded the number of households relying on terrestrial television, the launch of digital services reinvigorated the platform. The offer of additional television services, some in high-definition, and generally provided free of charge, has proven to be appealing to many viewers.
Countries such as the United States and Germany have seen an increase in the number of terrestrial households following the digital switchover while others countries with a traditionally high reliance on terrestrial television, such as France, Spain and Italy, have maintained a DTT penetration of over 75%. It is estimated that 275 million people rely on the DTT platform and over 200 million DTT receivers have been sold across Europe.
Improving DTT spectrum efficiency
Demonstrating its confidence in the future of the DTT platform, the broadcast industry continues to innovate in the technology used.
The development and deployment of the DVB-T2 standard has significantly increased spectrum efficiency when compared with the first-generation DVB-T standard. In the United Kingdom, multiplexes using the DVB-T2 standard offer an increased capacity of 67% compared with those multiplexes using the DVB-T standard.
However, migrating viewers to a new broadcast technology is not an easy endeavour. In Europe, countries that have launched broadcast services using DVB-T2 have done so alongside their existing DVB-T platform. It is not clear in such countries when a complete migration to DVB-T2 will occur or when it will be possible to switch-off the DVB-T platform.
Many countries have only recently completed analogue switch-off, or are in the process of doing so. Initiating a similar procedure for DVB-T to DVB-T2 switchover is not yet feasible. Politically, governments will not be prepared to make sudden new demands on their viewers, especially one requiring financial investment. Rather, many countries will prefer a slower and more graceful evolution towards DVB-T2. DigiTAG will explore this topic in detail in a Workshop on the plans for DVB-T2 expansion in Europe and the CIS in Vienna on 8 & 9 May 2012.
The Concept of Dynamic Broadcasting
At the University of Braunschweig, researchers have developed an architecture that allows for a dynamic approach to the delivery of content to viewers. This approach makes use of existing technologies but within a framework that can change depending on the anticipated demands of viewers.
Combining the benefits of the terrestrial television platform, broadband connections and the local hard-disc in the viewer’s receiver, Dynamic Broadcasting delivers content using the most suitable delivery technology. Content that is watched by many viewers and/or must be watched “live” is delivered via the terrestrial television platform. However, other content can be delivered to the local hard-disc for later viewing in non-real time, or delivered via the viewer’s broadband connection. The broadband connection can also be used to allow operators to better understand viewer consumption patterns and help determine the most efficient method for delivering content. Dynamic service guides are used to inform the receiver where to find the available content.
Frequency spectrum for the efficient transmission of services can be provided by the dynamic modification of transmission parameters and multiplex configurations based on actual frequency needs at a given moment in time.
The DTT platform is increasingly threatened by the frequency demands made by telecom operators. Yet, simultaneously, the platform must continue to innovate in order to maintain its relevance and appeal to viewers. The broadcast industry has made significant attempts to increase its spectrum efficiency through digital switchover and the recent launch of DVB-T2 in many countries. New concepts, such as Dynamic Broadcasting, are also being explored. However, migrating viewers to these further new technologies is no easy feat.
Ultimately, in determining how to best use available spectrum resources, national regulators must balance the demand for wireless broadband services alongside the needs of television viewers and their ability to adapt to new broadcast technologies. The balance is delicate since the appetite of mobile operators is voracious while the DTT platform requires sufficient capacity to retain its integrity. Anything less could lead to its untimely demise.
Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office
DigiTAG aims to encourage and facilitate the implementation and introduction of digital terrestrial television services using the Digital Video Broadcasting Project's Standard (DVB-T). It has members from broadcasting, network operators, regulatory, and manufacturing organisations throughout Europe and beyond.
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DTT NEWS ROUND-UP
For access to the full articles archive, please go to DigiTAG News
France - CSA announces 6 new HD/DTT licenses
The broadcast regulator CSA has announced its selection for the 6 new broadcast services on the DTT platform. A total of 31 candidates had applied for the licenses.
These services will be available in high-definition (HD) on the free-to-air DTT platform. Their launch is expected by the end of the year.
Source: CSA website
Russia - DVB-T2 to reach 70% of population by end of year
The government decided to bring forward its launch plans for the DTT platform using the DVB-T2 standard. The deployment of the DVB-T2 platform will take place in 7 regions this year.
The DVB-T2 platform was launched in early March in Tatarstan where it is available to 1.5 million residents. Next, the platform will launch in the areas of Krasnodar, Volgograd, Rostov and Pskov.
Source: Broadband TV News
South Africa - DTT launch in September
According to the Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, South Africa will launch its DTT platform in September 2012. Initial plans had called for a launch in April.
The Minister also confirmed that subsidies will be made available to offset the cost of DTT receivers for eligible households. Approximately 70% of the cost of the receiver will be funded.
Source: The New Age
Serbia - DTT to officially launch on 21 March
The DTT platform will launch on 21 March. The network will provide coverage to 40% of the population.
It will consist of 13 transmission sites as well as two additional sites in Belgrade as part of its SFN network. Further sites will be launched following the completion of analogue switch-off.
Source: ETV website
Spain - Government proposes reduced DTT offering
The government has proposed significant changes to the DTT platform as part of its plan to make the 800 MHz band available for mobile telecom services.
The DTT services currently operating in the 800 MHz band need to be moved to other frequencies in order to clear the band for mobile broadband services. The cost of this move is estimated at €800 million, of which €500 million is needed to cover the costs for antenna changes.
Australia - Nine seeks to offer 3D/DTT during Olympics
The commercial broadcaster Nine Network has made a request to the Ministry of Communications and the Communications and Media Authority for access to additional spectrum during the upcoming Olympic Games.
It would like to use the extra capacity to provide 3D highlights of the Games between 11hr - 16hr on the DTT platform. Alternatively, Nine has suggested that it could use one of its existing frequency slots.
Source: The Australian
Slovakia - Markiza Action to launch in June
The commercial broadcaster TV Markiza has announced plans to launch a third television programme service at the end of June.
This new service, tentatively known as Markiza Action, will target a male audience. It is expected that TV Markiza will use the broadcast license it had acquired last year for its planned service Markiza Cinema.
Source: Parabola.cz website
Bulgaria - EC opens infringement procedure
The European Commission (EC) has issued a reasoned opinion against Bulgaria for infringement of the European Union's Competition Directive.
According to the EC, Bulgaria violated the Competition Directive in its selection criteria for the license holders of five DTT multiplexes in 2009. It prevented applications from operators with links to content providers or network operators outside of Bulgaria which the EC considers to be disproportionate.
Source: EC press release
United Kingdom - White space trial in Isle of Bute
The "white spaces" between broadcast services are being used to trial wireless broadband services in rural areas.
This will allow residents in the Isle of Bute in Scotland to benefit from improved Internet connectivity. Currently, residents located far from their local telephone exchange access the Internet via satellite.
Source: The Telegraph
Poland - TVP confirms launch of HD services on 1 June
The public service broadcaster TVP has announced that it will launch its two flagship programme services, TVP1 and TVP2, in high-definition (HD) on 1 June.
This date was selected to ensure that HD content is available in time for the beginning of the UEFA European Football Championship 2012 on 8 June.
Source: TVP website