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.
To subscribe to the DigiTAG Web Letter, send
an email to the DigiTAG Project
The 700 MHz band in Europe
The initial results of studies by national regulators in Europe addressing the use of the UHF band are becoming available. At the international level, national regulators have already agreed to allocate the 700 MHz band to mobile broadband services on a co-primary basis alongside broadcasting after 2015. Now, national administrations must decide whether they would like to change the use of this band from broadcasting to mobile broadband.
Thus far, three administrations (Finland, France, Sweden) have confirmed plans to re-assign the 700 MHz band to mobile broadband services while four administrations (Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, UK) have indicated their intention to do so. At the end of May, the communications regulator in the United Kingdom, Ofcom, opened a consultation on a change of use of the 700 MHz band.
Yet, with only a few countries in Europe having indicated an interest in switching the use of the 700 MHz band from broadcasting to mobile broadband services, planning is already underway at a European level to allow for harmonization. The Electronic Communications Committee (ECC), which brings together regulations from 48 European countries, has approved CEPT Report 053 which will be issued for public consultation in early July. This report, developed as per the request of the European Commission, sets the harmonized technical conditions for the usage of the 700 MHz band by mobile broadband services. In addition, the ECC has requested that its Task Group (TG) 6 provide recommendations for the development of a database to collect information about progress in cross-border coordination that will be necessary to clear the 700 MHz band from DTT services.
The ECC’s TG6 has recently finalized its draft report on the long term vision for the UHF broadcasting band (470 – 694 MHz) in Europe. It has been approved by the ECC for public consultation and a final version is expected by the end of the year. This report provides an analysis of the different kinds of uses that can be made of the band based on 12 proposed use scenarios. Most interestingly, the report notes that linear viewing will remain the primary means of watching television content for the foreseeable future and that the majority of television viewing will take place in the home. Similarly, the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) and the High Level Group (HLG), chaired by former Commissioner Pascal Lamy, have been tasked by the European Commission to develop a long term strategy for the UHF band.
Costs to the DTT platform
While many assume that the 700 MHz band will be harmonized across Europe for mobile broadband services, the implications for doing so are not without costs.
For viewers, it will be necessary to re-scan their DTT receivers, to possibly make changes to their aerial installation, and to potentially face interference from mobile broadband services which could result in a loss of access to the DTT platform. For broadcasters, fewer frequencies will be available to provide services on the DTT platform thereby limiting the quality and number of services that can be offered. This could, to some extent, be offset by upgrading DTT networks to DVB-T2 and eventually introducing new compression technologies such as HEVC to increase multiplex capacity. However, viewers will need to acquire new receiving equipment. And, in any case, broadcast network operators will need to make significant changes at DTT transmission sites.
National administrations are currently debating whether countries that change the use of the 700 MHz band have a right to “recover” frequencies for the DTT platform in lower parts of the UHF band. Based on the concept of equitable access, national administrations have a similar number of national DTT multiplexes in the Geneva 2006 (GE-06) Agreement which regulates broadcast frequency usage in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. While some administrations hold the view that equitable access should be restored in the remaining part of the UHF band (470 – 694 MHz), others assume that a country deciding to use the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband services has renounced its right for equitable access and must accept a reduction in spectrum capacity for the DTT platform. While the GE-06 procedures could be used to coordinate new frequency assignments, re-planning is likely to be difficult. The RSPG has estimated that the coordination required to clear the 700 MHz band would take more than three years.
Questioning assumptions made by the mobile telecom industry
The mobile telecom industry has continually forecasted an ever-increasing demand for mobile broadband services. It has called for more frequencies in order to satiate the increase in mobile traffic. Yet, the growth in demand as forecasted by the mobile telecom industry has been questioned. Two studies, one published in the EBU Technical Review and another by the satellite industry, have found significant inconsistencies with the input parameters used by the ITU to estimate mobile traffic. Even Cisco has needed to revise downwards its earlier forecasts on mobile traffic, in particular its forecasts for Western Europe.
Yet, assuming that it is correct that mobile traffic will continue to grow and that it will be necessary to increase capacity for mobile telecom networks, is it necessary to increase capacity only through the addition of more frequencies? Already, according to an RSPG study, about 1000 MHz of spectrum is allocated to mobile telecom services in Europe, not including the 700 MHz band. While not all of this spectrum has been assigned, some of the assigned spectrum has not been deployed by mobile telecom operators. In addition, outdated mobile telecom technologies, such as 2G, could be switched off and these frequencies re-used, similar to the digital switchover process in the broadcast industry.
Network capacity can be significantly increased by deploying more efficient technology, by optimizing network topology, and by using various off-loading techniques such as to WiFi hotpots. Already, market figures show that 80% of tablets are only WiFi enabled and, of the remaining 20% of tablets, only one half are connected to a cellular network. A study for the European Commission showed that in 2012, 71% of all wireless data traffic delivered to smart phones and tablets in the European Union used WiFi and is expected to increase to 78% of wireless data traffic by 2016. The cheaper cost of using WiFi hotspots is strongly influencing consumer behavior.
Comparing broadcast and cellular networks
A recent two-part study in the EBU Technical Review provided an analysis of the costs of using a cellular network compared to a broadcast network in terms of spectrum consumption and finances.
The first part of the study showed that broadcast networks using DVB-T2 have greater spectrum efficiency for linear television services that cover very large areas. Only a very dense cellular LTE network can achieve a competitive performance. With the current infrastructure used by cellular networks, the study authors concluded that it is not reasonable to provide linear television content to large audiences.
In the second part of the study, the authors compared the financial costs of broadcast and cellular networks. They found that the cost of very dense cellular networks which have significantly lower spectrum consumption are by a factor of 25 - 30 times higher than the costs of present broadcast networks. Cellular networks with a similar or slightly better spectrum consumption than broadcast networks are remain about 7 - 8 times more expensive.
Similar results have been found in two studies, conducted in Sweden and in Germany, which examined the cost of delivering radio service over LTE networks compared to a DAB+ network.
Potential threat to competition
Telecom operators are increasingly becoming pay television providers. In most of Europe, telecom operators have developed IPTV platform to offer television services. Increasingly, however, telecom operators have begun acquiring satellite and cable operators. In the United States, AT&T has proposed to acquire DirecTV, in France SFR is in the process of acquiring Numericable while Telefonica in Spain is seeking full control of Prisa’s pay-DTT business unit, Distribuidora de Television Digital (DTS). Vodafone recently acquired Kabel Deutschland and Onon, the largest cable operators in Germany and Spain, respectively.
In some countries, such as the Netherlands, Latvia and Lithuania, the incumbent telecom operator offers an IPTV service as well as a pay-DTT service. However, these operators have often encouraged viewers towards the IPTV platform to the detriment of the DTT platform. Instead, the pay-DTT platform is marketed in areas where the IPTV platform is not available.
As a result, one could assume that the demand from the mobile telecom industry for access to the UHF spectrum may be motivated not only by the physical characteristics of these frequencies but also by a desire to weaken the DTT platform. And if telecom operators can displace free-to-air DTT, they could more successfully monetize pay television as well as the wireless television market. Not only would viewers need to pay to access content that is currently available for free, but broadcasters would have fewer alternatives for the delivery of their content to viewers.
Safeguarding the DTT platform
The head of the ITU’s Radiocommunications Bureau, Francois Rancy, has suggested that Europe may consider allocating the entire UHF band to mobile telecom services on a co-primary basis with broadcast services at the upcoming WRC in November 2015. While this could allow national administrations to have greater flexibility in spectrum management, it would lead to uncertainty on the DTT platform and undermine long term business investments. The broadcast industry will need to make significant investments to facilitate a release of the 700 MHz band and a key condition for these investments will be the guarantee of long-term access for DTT in the lower part of the UHF band. Otherwise, these investments will not be forthcoming.
When deciding whether to change the use of the UHF broadcast band from DTT to mobile broadband, the ECC’s TG6 recommended that national administrations consider the costs and benefits to consumers, the implications on the audiovisual industry, and provide a realistic timeframe for the transition towards a new usage scenario. Unfortunately, not all administrations have done so when deciding to change the use of the 700 MHz band.
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.
Please contact the DigiTAG office if you have any news that you would
like to include in the next DigiTAG Web Letter.
To unsubscribe from the DigiTAG Web Letter, please click
here and put 'UNSUBSCRIBE' in the subject title of your email.