ITU Affirms UHF for Broadcasting

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—The international body governing global spectrum treaties has affirmed the reservation of UHF channels for broadcasting across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Russia and neighboring nations. In making way for mobile broadband, the World Radiocommunication Conference last week voted to reserve 470-694 MHz (U.S. Chs. 14-51) for broadcasting.

“Representatives reached a consensus that this spectrum, currently used by broadcast services such as digital terrestrial TV and radio microphones, is too important to be allocated to mobile services,” said a statement from the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva, Switzerland.

The World Radiocommunication Conference is an ad hoc body of the International Telecommunications Union that meets every three to four years to review regulations covering radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, and revise them when necessary. Around 3,300 participants from 162 of the ITU’s 193 member states attended the four week conference, which concluded Nov. 27. More than 40 items involving spectrum allocation for mobile broadband, ham radio, emergency communications, satellite transmissions, maritime and aeronautical radio and more were discussed.

Revisions were made to allow mobile broadband services in L-band (1,427-1,518 MHz) and C-band (3.4-3.6 Ghz) spectrum, with studies to be done to identify frequencies at 6 GHz and above that would be suitable for wireless broadband.

Further revisions opened up the spectrum between 694 and 790 MHz (U.S. Chs. 52-67) to mobile broadband, with “full protection… [for] television broadcasting as well as to the aeronautical radionavigation systems operating in this frequency band,” according to the WRC’s summary of the meeting’s outcome. (In the United States, these channels were redesignated for mobile broadband and auctioned off in 2008.)

Other revisions included a new allocation for amateur radio in the 5 GHz band, more frequencies between 694-894 MHz for emergency communications, and greater protections for search-and-rescue operations on 406-406.1 MHz. New allocations also were made for earth observation satellites, wireless avionics, gobal flight tracking for civilian aviation, automotive radar and earth stations in motion.

Members also agreed to review coordinated universal time for a report to be considered at the 2023 WRC.

It was the EBU that made clear that WRC members agreed to reserve 470-694 MHz for broadcasting in the 118 countries comprising ITU Region 1. EBU said WRC members “agreed that there would be no change to the allocation in the 470-694 MHz band either now, or at WRC-19 in four years’ time. Instead there will be a review of the spectrum use in the entire UHF band—470-960 MHz—at the WRC in 2023. Only then will it be decided whether to make further changes to the Radio Regulations. This added security will enable many countries in ITU Region 1 to continue with their digital switchover programs without the risk of an impending change in use of the spectrum.”

The National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, D.C., also hailed the decision.

“NAB was pleased by the global unity demonstrated at WRC-15 for the importance of a vibrant system of over-the-air broadcasting,” the NAB’s Dennis Wharton said in a statement. “Of the 162 nations attending the conference, more than 140 countries rejected the wireless broadband industry’s anti-broadcasting UHF spectrum grab and recognized that frequency band is harmonized to provide television services on a worldwide scale. This broad consensus should send a strong message that while wireless broadband services are important for those who can afford the fees, that service should not come at the expense of a ubiquitous over-the air TV service that is available to all for free.”