EBU and ABU Defend Broadcast Spectrum

On the closing day of the 50th Anniversary Annual Assembly of the ABU in Macau, leaders of the European Broadcasting Union and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union demanded global action to protect spectrum to guarantee the future of broadcasting.

EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre told delegates that 250 million Europeans rely on spectrum to watch digital terrestrial TV (DTT), saying “DTT remains the backbone to public TV access. We cannot allow the mobile industry’s insatiable appetite for spectrum resources to hijack this precious resource.”

ABU Secretary General Dr. Javad Mottaghi said, “Terrestrial broadcasting remains a crucial tool in emergency situations. It is often the only technology which continues to function and can reach a mass audience despite difficult external conditions. Terrestrial television is the cornerstone of the broadcast industry and its survival is essential to the region’s people.”

Cho Dae-hyun, ABU president and head of South Korea public broadcaster KBS said spectrum is crucial to the future of terrestrial broadcasting. “The Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union is working closely with the EBU to protect spectrum. Without securing the new media platform, we cannot consider the launch of UHD broadcast service. Quick and firm global action should be taken to safeguard this resource for digital TV broadcasting.”

EBU and ABU are concerned about pressure to make wireless telecommunications co-primary with TV broadcasting throughout the UHF TV band. Leading industry organizations including the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Broadcast Networks Europe (BNE), Abertis Telecom, Arqiva, the BBC and TDF commissioned telecommunications consultancy Aetha to study the impact of taking UHF spectrum from broadcasters and giving it to mobile operators. Aetha’s analysis, which was limited to the UK and Europe, showed that the value of UHF spectrum is greater for DTT than mobile operators by a factor of four to one—even if the most aggressive mobile data forecasts for increased mobile traffic are assumed.

EBU Technical Director Simon Fell said the study demonstrates the “enormous economic value” the DTT platform brings to consumers and the critical role UHF plays in the delivery of audio-visual content. “In contrast,” said Mr Fell, “mobile traffic forecasts—even the most optimistic—can no longer justify claims to more UHF spectrum for mobile networks. We welcome the report and urge European administrations to reach the same conclusion, with a view to ensuring Europeans continue to have universal and free-to-air access to a broad range of TV and radio programs and content, as well as other over-the-air services.”

The Aetha study, Future use of the 470-694 MHz band is based on data from eight EU member states: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the UK. These were selected to represent the range of differing circumstances and costs related to moving consumers from DTT to other platforms such as cable, satellite and IP delivery. The costs vary widely from country to country depending on the number of DTT multiplexes, the number of DTT viewers, and available cable and satellite options. The study looked at taking a portion of the 470-694 MHz band from DTT but concluded that removing the minimum amount of spectrum mobile operators would need (72 MHz) would reduce the number of multiplexes (programs) available to the extent it wouldn't be considered a credible alternative to satellite and cable by consumers.

The study looked at the implications of making the remaining UHF DTT spectrum co-primary with mobile use and concludes, “the historic repurposing of DTT spectrum for mobile use following co-primary allocations being made to mobile at WRC-07 and WRC-12 could raise expectations that 470–694MHz spectrum could be taken away from DTT in the event that a co-primary allocation is made at WRC-15. This would be an inappropriate message to send to both the investment community and wider public at a time when investment in the next generation of digital broadcast technology (for example in DVB-T2 technology) by both network operators and consumers needs to be encouraged. As such, a co-primary allocation to mobile at WRC-15 would have considerable negative impacts on DTT. This would lead to the DTT platform falling behind other television platforms and even unnecessarily risk its viability, with little or no benefit to be derived. Consequently we recommend that European national administrations do not support making a co-primary allocation to mobile at WRC-15.”

The study shows it is a misconception that an increase in nonlinear television viewing is at the expense of traditional linear TV viewing. The amount of linear TV viewing in the EU “Big 5” countries has grown between 2005 (218 minutes per person per day) and 2012 (233 minutes per person per day). IHS forecasts it will remain essentially the same through 2016, dropping slightly to 230 minutes per person per day as nonlinear viewing increases to 32.5 minutes per day.

Anyone involved with TV broadcasting should find “Future use of the 470-694 MHz band” interesting.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.