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Regulatory activities in the allocation of the 700 MHz band
The digital television (DTT) platform remains the most important means for viewers to access television services in Europe. According to recent data from Eurobarometer (Report 396, August 2013), the terrestrial platform is used by 46% of television households. The content offering on the DTT platform is vast with 456 free-to-air national or international channels, 529 pay channels and over 1,000 regional and local channels available across European Union member states (European Audiovisual Observatory, Yearbook 2012).
Most significantly, DTT remains an essential platform for the provision of free-to-air television. For public service broadcasters, DTT is the only television delivery platform that guarantees viewers universal access to its content and services without the interference of a gate-keeper.
Nearly all countries in Europe have successfully completed analogue switch-off. Despite the disruption, viewers have remained loyal to the terrestrial platform and, across Europe, have invested in the purchase 250 million DTT receivers. Analogue switch-off has allowed the terrestrial television platform to innovate. Viewers can access new services, high quality images as well as more television channels. New business models have emerged offering such pay services as monthly subscriptions and pay-per-view options. Currently, pay-DTT services are available in 17 European Union member-states.
Analogue switch-off has also enabled frequencies to be made available for mobile broadband services. European Union member-states have agreed to harmonise the 800 MHz band for mobile broadband services and many countries are now in the process of allocating licenses and rolling out such services. Discussions are now emerging on the allocation of more UHF spectrum to mobile telecom operators, most notably in the 700 MHz band.
However, the viability of the DTT platform requires access to sufficient spectrum as well as the certainty that spectrum will remain available in the future so that new investments can be made.
Regulatory activities at WRC-15:
Agenda items 1.2 and 1.1
At the last World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) held under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2012, national administrations in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia agreed to make the 700 MHz band available to mobile telecom service on a co-primary basis alongside broadcast services. This decision will enter into force at the next WRC in 2015. Such an allocation helps harmonise the use of the 700 MHz band (694 – 790 MHz) around the world as it is (or will soon) be licensed to mobile telecom services in Asia Pacific and the Americas. However, before the next WRC in 2015, the ITU has been tasked to study the compatibility between broadcast and mobile telecom services in these bands and take appropriate measures as necessary (WRC-15 agenda item 1.2).
At the WRC in 2012, national administrations also decided to consider additional spectrum allocations for mobile telecom services on a co-primary basis, alongside broadcasting, in the frequency bands 470 – 694 MHz at the WRC in 2015 (WRC-15 agenda item 1.1). This could result in all frequencies in the UHF band currently reserved for broadcast services to be made available to mobile telecom services on a co-primary basis. National administrations will then be able to decide on the service allocation for these frequencies.
As part of its preparation for the WRC in 2015, working groups have been preparing studies to examine the possible frequencies that can be allocated to mobile telecom services as well as the compatibility between mobile telecom and broadcast services. This work is underway in the Joint Task Group 4-5-6-7 and its related Working Groups.
Pan-European regulatory activities
At the European level, discussions are underway with pan-European bodies including the European Commission, the RSPG, and the CEPT.
As a first step, the RSPG, which is an advisory body to the European Commission on spectrum related issues, issued a report RSPG13-522 on spectrum for wireless broadband and broadcast services in the frequencies from 400 MHz to 6 GHz last May. Regarding the allocation of the 700 MHz band mobile telecom services, the report recognised the significant impact that such an allocation will have on the DTT platform.
Currently, the RSPG is preparing an opinion on the long term strategy for the UHF band as well as an opinion on the common policy objectives for WRC-15. In addition, the European Commission (EC) has indicated that it will set up a «high-level» group to consider the future use of the 700 MHz.
As a strong supporter of the harmonised use of frequencies across Europe, the EC has called on the CEPT, which is comprised of 48 national communications regulators across Europe, to prepare a report on the technical conditions for the use of the 700 MHz band by mobile telecom operators. The CEPT will do so but has divided the task into two reports, Report A and Report B, which will be completed in October 2014 and June 2016, respectively.
Last June, the CEPT, via its Electronic Communications Committee (ECC), established Task Group 6 which will provide a long-term vision for the use of the UHF band with particular focus on the frequencies from 470 - 694 MHz. This group will analyse various scenarios for the development of these frequencies.
National spectrum requirements for broadcasting
National administrations have also begun discussing the allocation of the 700 MHz band. Already, some countries such as France and Finland, have decided that this band will be allocated to mobile telecom operators. Others, such as the United Kingdom, have opened consultations on the topic.
As part of the ITU’s preparation for the WRC-15, national administrations have submitted information on their future spectrum requirements for broadcast services. Such information will help formulate the amount of spectrum necessary in each country for its DTT platform. Among the 48 CEPT members, 32 members responded to the questionnaire.
To the question on the future number of DTT multiplexes required in the 470 – 862 MHz band, 25 national administrations believe that they will need at least 4 DTT multiplexes. In addition, 6 administrations indicated that they will require 7-8 DTT multiplexes while 3 administrations will require more than 8 DTT multiplexes. Only 1 administration believes that it will need 3 or fewer DTT multiplexes.
In terms of the amount of spectrum required for the DTT platform in the 470 – 862 MHz band, a majority of the respondents (13 national administrations) believe that they will require 320 MHz while 1 administration will require more spectrum. Only 3 administrations believe that they will need less than 320 MHz of spectrum for their DTT platform.
Challenges facing the DTT platform
The DTT platform currently finds itself in a quandary. Digital switchover has proven the continued relevance of the platform to many viewers across Europe. In many countries, innovation continues as the platform transitions to the DVB-T2 and MPEG-4 AVC standards and offers such services as HDTV. While only two countries (France and the United Kingdom) offered HD services on the DTT platform at the end of 2009, such service are now available in 23 countries. Broadcasters have also begun offering hybrid broadcast and broadband services making additional content available on the broadband platform but accessible through the DTT platform.
However, national administrations are now seeking to increase the spectrum available to mobile telecom operators and seeking frequencies among those traditionally reserved for broadcasting. Many countries are currently experiencing the launch of mobile telecom services in the 800 MHz band and its implications and costs for broadcasters and viewers. The impact of interference will only be fully understood once all telecom operators launch their services.
The success of such a launch will help determine whether it will be possible to allocate further frequencies to telecom operators. However, the impact of allocating the 700 MHz band to mobile telecom operators will be much more profound.
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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