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The cost of re-allocating
the 700 MHz band
Deciding which services will make use of the 700 MHz band is a heavily debated topic across Europe. Traditionally reserved for broadcast services, national administrations are currently considering to change the use of the band to mobile broadband services. This follows the decision made at the last World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in 2012 to allow for the introduction of mobile broadband services in the 700 MHz band, alongside broadcasting, after its next meeting in 2015.
Interest in changing the use of the 700 MHz band from broadcasting to mobile broadband services emanates from the need to accommodate increased capacity demands for such services as well as the benefits of harmonizing the use of the band across the world. However, many questions have been raised regarding the actual frequency demands for mobile broadband services. Two studies  have been recently published that found significant inconsistencies with the input parameters used by the ITU to estimate mobile traffic.
In a new paper issued by the IESE Business School, policy-makers are warned about the trade-offs in licensing the 700 MHz band to mobile telecom services too hastily. According to this paper, assigning too much frequency capacity to mobile broadband services too quickly and at a high-cost to existing users will lead to an inefficient outcome.
Future use of the UHF band
In Europe, much policy discussion is currently focused on the future use of the UHF band, from 470 – 694 MHz which is traditionally used for the provision of broadcast services.
Two groups have been set up to draft reports on the future use of the UHF band. Within the CEPT, the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) has established Task Group 6 to develop a long-term strategy for the use of the UHF band. This report, to be completed by the end of 2014, will provide an analysis of the different kinds of uses that can be made of the band based on 12 proposed use scenarios.
Within the European Union, the RSPG, an advisory body to the Commission on spectrum issues, has also been tasked to develop a long-term strategy on the future use of the UHF band, including a common approach to the use of the 700 MHz band. This strategy is expected to be issued in February 2015. The European Commission has also mandated a High Level Group (HLG) of CEO-level representatives from the mobile telecom and broadcast industries to provide input to be used for the development of a political strategy on the future use of the UHF band. This input, to be delivered in the form of a report from the group chairman, Pascal Lamy who is a former European Commissioner, will be delivered in July 2014.
The Commission has also mandated the consultancies firms Plum Consulting and Farncombe to prepare a study on the convergence between broadcasting and mobile broadband networks in the UHF band. This study will be ready in November.
These activities have been taken to help develop a common European position for the upcoming World Radiocommunications Conference in 2015 in relation to the UHF band, and include the possible harmonization of the 700 MHz band.
Recommendations to ensure efficient spectrum allocation 
A recent paper issued by the IESE Business School in Spain argues that any decision on the re-allocation of the 700 MHz band requires careful analysis based on the availability of sufficient data. However, current data available are insufficient. Instead, the paper proposes tools to help policy-makers reduce uncertainty and allow for an efficient allocation of spectrum.
Issues policy-makers must consider
According to the paper, three issues must be considered prior to a spectrum re-allocation in the 700 MHz band.
First, the future spectrum demands for mobile telecom services are uncertain. Projections on future mobile traffic vary depending on the source and, in the case of the Cisco projections, have been revised downwards. No reliable official data exists to validate industry estimates. In addition, the use of such wireless technology as Wi-Fi, which accounts for 70% of Internet traffic from mobile devices worldwide, have increased and made it difficult to predict future wireless broadband spectrum needs. This high uncertainty makes it risky to make early allocation decisions.
Second, the 700 MHz band is used in many countries in Europe for the provision of DTT services. Currently, the DTT platform offers access to nearly 2,000 television programme services and is the main platform for nearly 50% of European households. This platform uses the 700 MHz band in countries where viewer dependency on the DTT platform is high, including Spain, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Removing these services from the 700 MHz band will require finding alternative frequencies for the DTT platform to ensure that it remains competitive.
Finally, policy-makers lack information about the current levels of spectrum usage and the efficiency of this usage. Once spectrum is allocated by regulators, there is limited monitoring of spectrum efficiency. Within the broadcast industry, some have called on regulators to ensure that all spectrum users make efficient use of their spectrum and not only broadcasters.
The re-allocation of the 700 MHz band away from broadcasting and to mobile telecom services will involve trade-offs. Such an allocation will be inefficient if too much spectrum is allocated to mobile telecom services while the costs to the DTT platform will be high. The DTT platform will lose its competitiveness with other television platforms should its amount of frequency capacity be reduced. Should the DTT platform be moved to alternative frequencies, the cost burden will be placed on viewers and network operators. A “one-size fits all” approach in Europe may not be suitable given the different trade-offs for each country.
According to the paper, an early decision on the re-allocation of the 700 MHz might not lead to a more efficient outcome. To enable an allocation decision that can guarantee an efficient outcome, the paper’s author makes several policy recommendations.
First, the paper calls for an assessment of current spectrum usage to allow for more accurate forecasts on future use. It calls for an expansion of the EU inventory of existing spectrum use to include how spectrum is actually used and whether spectrum is used efficiently. Second, the paper calls for an examination of using underutilized parts of the spectrum. Non-commercial spectrum, such as some allocated for defense purposes as well as broadcast white spaces, could be made available.
Third, the paper calls on policy-makers to promote new technologies that make more efficient use of spectrum. In addition to more efficient technical standards, such concepts as spectrum sharing and pooling could be introduced. Finally, the paper calls for the implementation of market-based solutions to ensure spectrum efficiency. Current spectrum allocation only guarantees an efficiency allocation at the time of the allocation. However, over time allocation efficiency can change with the development of new technologies and changes in demand. As a result, the introduction of market-based tools such as spectrum trading can allow access to users willing to make efficient use of spectrum.
The paper provides an analysis of the costs of changing spectrum use at a time when European policy-makers are discussing the future use of the UHF band and specifically the 700 MHz band. As noted in the paper, policy-makers will need a more accurate picture of current spectrum use as well as need to explore alternative policy and technology options to allow for an efficient use of spectrum.
Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office
 See the study from the satellite industry and in the EBU Technical Review
 This paper refers to the change in the services using the 700 MHz band from broadcasting to mobile broadband services as a re-allocation. However, the term “allocation” is generally used by policy-makers to identify priority service usage of a given frequency channel. In Region 1, the 700 MHz band has already been allocated to mobile broadband services, alongside broadcasting services, on a co-primary basis, at the WRC-12 and will come into effect after the WRC-15. However, the debate remains on how national administrations will decide what services ultimately make use of this band.
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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