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The 700 MHz band allocation
In a widely circulated news article, the French business newspaper Les Echos reported that the President had unilaterally agreed to allocate the 700 MHz frequency band to mobile telecom services. If this news report is correct, it could have consequences on the allocation of the 700 MHz throughout Europe. Currently, other countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy are considering a similar allocation while European level institutions have begun to consult on the issue.
The discussion on the allocation of the 700 MHz band to mobile telecom services began at the last World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) held in early 2012. At this conference, national administrations representing Region 1 (Africa, Europe and parts of Asia) agreed to update, at the next WRC in 2015, the Radio Regulations so that mobile telecom services could be introduced in the 700 MHz band (from 694 – 790 MHz) on a co-primary basis alongside broadcasting after 2015. This allocation harmonizes the use of the 700 MHz band since other parts of the world already have permitted a similar allocation.
However, the situation is more complicated in Europe where the 700 MHz band is used for the provision of DTT services. It currently represents 30% of all frequencies used by the DTT platform. The displacement of the DTT platform out of the 700 MHz band will require complex network changes, consumer equipment upgrades and revisions to the current plan regulating frequency usage between countries, the Geneva 2006 Plan. Yet, despite these obstacles, national administrations in Europe have begun an initial foray into such a proposal.
Activities by national administrations
National administrations in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Finland have taken initial measures that could indicate a willingness to allow for the introduction of mobile telecom services in the 700 MHz band.
In November 2012, the communications regulator Ofcom issued its UHF Strategy Statement where it called for the allocation of more frequencies for mobile telecom (broadband) services while simultaneously securing the benefits of the DTT platform. To achieve these objectives, it supports international efforts to allocate the 700 MHz band for mobile telecom services and the use of the 600 MHz by the DTT platform.
More recently, Ofcom opened a consultation on the factors to be considered when assessing the costs and benefits associated with a change to the use of the 700 MHz band. It also seeks input on the measures that should be taken ahead of any future change in allocation of the 700 MHz band to reduce the disruption and costs which could result from such a change. This consultation closes on 5 July. Alongside this consultation, Ofcom has also commissioned two studies to help it gauge the impact of a change to the allocation of the 700 MHz band by examining the types of television antennas used by households and consumer behavior when purchasing television sets. At the end of the year, Ofcom plans to issue a Cost Benefit Analysis.
Currently, the 700 MHz band is used by the DTT platform for the provision of national services and will also be used for the local DTT platforms to be rolled out by the end of the year.
The government is planning to hold an auction to allocate frequencies for use by the DTT platform. Initially, frequencies in the 700 MHz were to be made available as part of the auction but only for a five-year period. However, the government has since decided to no longer make these frequencies, known as the U allotment, available in the upcoming auction. Instead, these frequencies may become available for mobile telecom services.
Most of the licenses allocated to operators of the DTT platform will expire in 2016. As a result, the government plans to allocate to 700 MHz band to mobile telecom services as of 2017.
However, the government also provides strong support to the DTT platform. Four DTT multiplexes will be licensed in the UHF band (470 – 694 MHz) while three multiplexes will be licensed in the VHF band. Multiplexes using the DVB-T2 standard will be licensed until 2036 while multiplexes using the DVB-T standard will be licensed until 2026. Migration to DVB-T2 is expected as soon as the penetration of DVB-T2 receivers is considered sufficiently high.
Should the article in Les Echos reporting that the French President decided to allocate the 700 MHz band to mobile telecom services be correct, the auction of such frequencies would take place as early as 2016 with the hope of generating €3 billion. However the number of multiplexes available on the DTT platform would need to be reduced from 8 to 5-6 and it is unlikely that the DTT platform would be able to offer all television services in high-definition as planned.
Activities within European institutions
The European Commission has been a strong supporter of the harmonized use of frequencies across Europe. It has played a leading role in ensuring that countries adopt the same technical conditions for the use of the 800 MHz band which should be allocated to mobile telecom services across Europe as of 2015.
More recently, it has called on the CEPT, which is composed of 48 national communications regulators from across Europe, to prepare a report on the technical conditions for the use of the 700 MHz band by mobile telecom services. The CEPT has agreed to do so but has divided the tasks into two reports, Report A and Report B, which will be completed in October 2014 and June 2016, respectively. The CEPT has also agreed to set up a correspondence group on the long term vision of the UHF band.
The Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), which is an advisory group to the Commission, has also considered the allocation of the 700 MHz band in its recent consultation on the strategic challenges facing Europe. This draft opinion addresses the demand for more frequencies by mobile telecom operators and references the 700 MHz as one of the key bands for mobile telecom services in the medium term.
In its response to the RSPG’s draft opinion, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has called on the RSPG to review the forecasts of data traffic growth on mobile networks and of the consequent spectrum requirements. It mentions a recent Cisco report in which Cisco admitted that it overestimated the data volume on mobile communications networks in Western Europe by nearly 80% in a forecast made less than one year in advance.
At a time when discussions have begun regarding the allocation of the 700 MHz band to mobile telecom services in Europe, the demand for DTT services remains high. A recent survey conducted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) shows that the spectrum requirements for the DTT platform in Europe are not likely to decrease in the near future.
Simultaneously, the demand for frequencies in the 700 MHz band by telecom operators can be questioned. In Australia, one-third (30 MHz) of the total amount of frequencies available in the 700 MHz band (90 MHz) was left unsold at its recent frequency auction. The high reserve price for the licenses may have deterred operators which could dampen government expectations on the potential revenue to be generated through these frequency auctions.
Meanwhile, the terrestrial television platform is used by more than 50% of households for their primary reception of television services in Europe and is the primary television distribution platform in such countries as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Spain. According to Ofcom, DTT will remain a key television delivery platform in the United Kingdom until at least 2030.
Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office
DigiTAG is an association of stakeholders in the digital terrestrial TV industry and has members from broadcasting, network operators, regulatory, and professional equipment and consumer electronics manufacturing organisations throughout the world. DigiTAG has recently re-launched with new Statutes and the mission of defending and promoting digital terrestrial television on a worldwide basis, and, notably, will work tirelessly to protect spectrum for broadcasting, regardless of the technical standard used on the DTT platform.
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