Geneva conference votes to open global TV spectrum for wireless devices

A global conference on spectrum in Geneva decided last week to give mobile service providers access to bandwidth currently reserved for terrestrial TV broadcasts.

The action by the United Nations-hosted World Radiocommunications Conference offers the prospect of low-cost, high-speed mobile Internet access anywhere in the world by 2015.

In order to make the decision, the organization made a major concession to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a group that had opposed the action. The compromise means the amount of bandwidth available for mobile services in the EBU’s region will be half of what is offered elsewhere.

The European broadcasters warned earlier last week that viewers of digital terrestrial television might experience interference if the two technologies shared the same frequency.

In addition to the reduced bandwidth, the EBU was promised that Europe, Africa, China, Mongolia, the countries of the former Soviet Union, and much of the Middle East must wait until 2015 before making the most cost-effective part of the radio spectrum available for advanced mobile services.

The delay, the Associated Press reported, allows the European broadcasters more time to examine interference problems, and addresses Russian concerns about a possible conflict with military and aviation broadcasts that still use the frequency.

The compromise decision, the AP reported, will give manufacturers of wireless equipment greater security to develop better and cheaper devices, while service providers can expect significantly lower rollout costs for new networks.

U.S. officials had lobbied for a global agreement on spectrum use, arguing that a common approach was better than each country or region deciding to use separate frequencies for next-generation mobile services.

Consumers in the United States are to gain access to part of the spectrum in question by 2009. A U.S. government auction scheduled for February is expected to net up to $15 billion from the sale of bandwidth in the 698MHz to 806MHz range.

The same frequencies will be available for mobile services throughout the Americas, India, Japan, Korea and a number of other Asian countries, while the rest of the world will initially use only the 790MHz to 862MHz range.