UHF Band Study: not just 'salami'

The ECC's work on 700 MHz is closely structured around the allocation decision made at WRC-12. The working assumption of a lower limit at 694 MHz is a quasi-arbitrary compromise brokered at WRC-12. That alone is an important and pragmatic constraint, but it may or may not be optimum in terms of the European harmonisation plan for broadcasting and mobile in this band, either in the short or particularly in the longer term. In Europe we are keen to take the whole of the band into account. Already the decisions and implementations on 800 MHz are constraining the efficiency of the solutions considered at 700 MHz, and the phrase ‘salami-slicing’ is sometimes heard in describing this approach.

It is also very important for incumbent users to work in a predictable environment, with some understanding of where this evolution is heading. Re-engineering high-power UHF TV stations to fit new frequency plans is a very disruptive and expensive business. Another example is with PMSE where there has been some recent investment in equipment designed for the 700 MHz band in a few places, triggered by the allocation of 800 MHz exclusively to mobile broadband in the EU. This may be a relatively small investment so far within the larger context, but it is a major issue for those affected. It is clear that a longer-term vision is vitally important for all users. PT WG51, supported by SE7, is currently reviewing some possibilities for PMSE’s future in the changing environment of 800 and 1800 MHz, within another related European Commission mandate.

Is Terrestrial TV in decline, or is it a tower of strength?

Therefore the ECC has set up a Task Group, TG6, to look at the rest of the UHF 'broadcasting' band, from 470 - 694 MHz, to ensure that these longer-term issues are properly captured and taken into account, at least in the considerations for 700 MHz. This should also inform CEPT's approach to WRC-15, where Agenda Item 1.1 could potentially bring the whole band (inter-alia) into negotiation. Furthermore, TG6 should be able to inform the EU's approach to defining a long-term policy for the whole band in the 28 Member States.

The Task Group is chaired by Jaime Afonso of Portugal. It is established with a primarily technical focus. It should help to improve understanding and to enable some reasonable working assumptions to be made at the policy level. Therefore the Terms of Reference reflect the need to take account of the numerous policy issues which are relevant.

Will the public be willing to pay enough for universal connectivity for high-bandwidth smartphones, or will they seek out 'free' wi-fi access?

Much of the public debate on the subject focuses on the relative merits of the potential and competing uses of the band in the future. It is unlikely that the next 12 months over which TG6 will work will reveal a clear and unanimously supported way forward at the policy level. Several large countries have already made some sort of statement of intent to reallocate 700 MHz to mobile, and the trend will probably continue. But that makes TG6's work more important rather than less, to set out the options in terms of frequency management. The basic challenge facing the group is how to deal with the very different situations in different European countries. There may be a different vision of an endgame, and there will be differences in how quickly different countries should ideally move from a current scenario to a future one, whatever that may be.

The review is deliberately forward-looking. Although the requirements for broadcasting and mobile broadband are immediate and/or short-term, it is also important to challenge the assumption that broadcasting and mobile networks will always look the same as they do today. Two of the areas the group will consider are the possible development of converged mobile and broadcasting approaches to the delivery of content of common interest to groups of users, and also to recognise the very asymmetrical nature of the traffic which drives demand for mobile broadband. At present this is already estimated at 4:1 (downlink: uplink), so it could in the medium-term seem to have been very short-sighted to have a lot of wasted spectrum locked into provision for uplink traffic that simply isn't there.

The technical incompatibilities between broadcasting and mobile are so great that a universally satisfactory outcome looks improbable: neither a ‘one size fits all’ solution for every country, still less a completely independent nationally based approach. This is probably the most strategically difficult challenge that has faced regulators for a long time. History has taught us that predicting the future is a dangerous game. And ignoring it is dangerous, too.

Newsletter Archive

January Newsletter 2011 - Articles
June Newsletter 2011 - Articles
October Newsletter 2011 - Articles
February Newsletter 2012 - Articles
February 2012 WRC Special - Articles
June Newsletter 2012 - Articles
December Newsletter 2012 - Articles
April Newsletter 2013 - Articles