Scrambling for the sweet spot in UHF

Where is the 'sweet spot' in the radio spectrum? For many applications, it is the frequency range from about 380 to 1000 MHz (part of the UHF range). This offers an excellent compromise between the useful range of the signals, better building penetration, and the antenna size on mobile devices.

This popularity is reflected in a number of ways, most visibly in the prices fetched when spectrum is auctioned in this range. But you also see it in other ways, such as the number of spectrum news articles written about it, and the number of people who travel to meetings on the topic in the ECC family. Although the ECC’s technical expertise is perhaps its more unique characteristic, it is still the politics of spectrum allocation which brings the largest numbers onto the delegate lists.

There are few if any radio systems which cannot be made to work outside UHF, but that often comes with a higher cost somewhere; typically in the number of fixed base or transmitter stations. That is particularly true of terrestrial broadcasting, and public and private mobile systems. Other frequency dependent factors also play a part such as the engineering of device antennas and electronics (the latter was a bigger issue for early wireless pioneers than it is now). So there is a large element of compromise in order to provide enough frequencies overall for a wide variety of applications. That's why we find broadcasting at VHF and UHF, fixed satellite at ranges between 3 GHz and 27 GHz, mobile phones at 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2.1 GHz, and so on. The economics of spectrum use is very complex and involves a large number of factors.

Mobile broadband, with its potential benefits and hunger for capacity, is at the top of the spectrum world’s agenda. We hear strong debates about why frequencies already harmonised for mobile broadband are not already full, despite the explosion in traffic demand. Is it because they aren't economically feasible (as administrations we would disagree with that), or is it because mobile operators understandably prefer to wait for the hoped-for spectrum with better coverage potential, and perhaps better device availability?

In order to get the most effective framework in place for this band, we need to look right across the subject and consider long-term solutions. This is central to the ECC's approach to addressing the UHF question. And our three current technical studies, which are inter-related, provide this opportunity. They are:

  • our studies on the ‘700 MHz’ band, and its potential use for more capacity for mobile broadband services in this so-called ‘sweet spot’ for spectrum;
  • a new Task Group set up to raise and answer questions on the future use of the rest of the UHF broadcasting band (470-694 MHz); and
  • the search for frequencies to deliver high quality video from the scene of incidents and events for public protection and disaster relief (including planned large-scale public events): BB-PPDR.

The benefits of taking this 360-degree look at the UHF band provides us with a unique opportunity to think explicitly about what is needed for the effective development of this important range of spectrum for the longer term. This is an important principle which will help to ensure that this complex policy debate is underpinned by a deeper level of technical understanding which should expose the benefits and trade-offs to the various policy options.


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