EC Outlines Plans to Shift UHF TV Spectrum to Wireless Broadband

The European Union released details this week on a report from Pascal Lamy based on six months of dialogue on how to use UHF spectrum in the mid-to-long term future that involved executives from Europe's broadcasters, network operators, mobile companies and tech associations. Based on the reaction to the Report, it appears neither the wireless carriers nor the broadcasters were entirely happy with it.

Lamy proposed a “2020-2030-2025 “ formula designed to fulfull the “Digital Agenda for Europe” targets in three steps:

--The 694-790 MHz band currently used by terrestrial broadcast networks and wireless microphones should be dedicated to wireless broadband across Europe by 2020 (+/- 2 years). The proposal said this would allow sufficient lead time to ensure a transition path that minimizes the cost for spectrum users and citizens and accommodates the diversity in penetration levels of terrestrial broadcasting within Europe.

--Terrestrial broadcasters would receive regulatory security and stability in the remaining UHF spectrum below 700 MHz by safeguarding it until 2030. The report said Europe should reject any plans for primary allocation of mobile to the 470-694 MHz band which is currently allocated to broadcasting on a primary basis, but said some flexibility nevertheless could be catered for the development of 'down link only' technologies that give priority to primary broadcast networks.

--In 2025, there would be a review to assess technology and market developments. The European Commission release said, “In order to take into account the evolving change in consumer demand as well as new technologies, such as converged networks or large-scale roll out of optic fibre, a stock-taking exercise of UHF spectrum use should be performed by 2025. It would give Europe the opportunity to re-assess where we stand and avoid any freeze of regulation compared to the rapid advance in technology and consumer behaviour.”

Presenting the report to Neelie Kroes in Brussels, Pascal Lamy said, “For too long the broadband and broadcasting communities have been at loggerheads about the use of the UHF spectrum band. There have been many different views and perspectives. On the basis of discussions with the two sectors, I have put forward a single scheme that could provide a way forward for Europe to thrive in the digital century.” Neelie Kroes said, “Pascal's report lays down a path for creating capacity for fast wireless broadband everywhere and for ensuring a stable and predictable future for terrestrial broadcasting, while allowing those Member States that want to move forward more quickly to do so. It would also ensure sustainable co-existence, as both sectors focus increasingly on advanced media services. This is essential to secure our changing digital future and hold our own in international negotiations.”

Lamy's Report to the European Commission – Results of the Work of the High Level Group on the Future Use of the UHF Band (470-790 MHz) outlines the data that contributed to the recommendations. Regarding over-the-air TV, the Report comes to these conclusions:

--“'Free-to-air' is a crucial factor in the European audiovisual model. DTT is free at the point of access in all Member States, which is particularly important for the citizens' access to public TV channels. Furthermore, the DTT ecosystem offers broadcasters a transparent and controllable interface to consumers.”

--“Next-generation terrestrial broadcasting technology (DVB-T2 and HEVC4) offers large capacity gains for DTT which can offset increasing spectrum demand due to new video formats like HD and Ultra HD. Changes to network topology and configuration such as single frequency networks or denser-located lower-power lower-tower transmitting stations would also bring additional space to accommodate more services. However, a loss of the 700 MHz band would be likely to impose additional limitations on the scope of programme offer in a number of Member States. It should also be taken into account
that spectrum availability for wireless microphones (PMSE) will shrink if DTT uses spectrum more efficiently.”

The Report's Annex 3 “Fact Sheet on Demand” states: “Linear TV viewing over different delivery platforms (mix is country specific), on large TV screens, will remain at the present high level in the foreseeable future (today around 4 h/day and person, 87 % of population every day).”

The “Fact Sheet on Supply” sees technologies such as single frequency networks (SFNs), adoption of DVB-T2, and improved compression technology such as HEVC leading to greater efficiency in broadcast use of spectrum. Regarding SFNs, it notes that adoption of this technology could impact space availability for PMSE (wireless microphones).

Chris Forrester, in his article EBU slams regulators selling TV frequencies presents the European Broadcasting Union's response to the report, noting that the EBU statement severely criticized governments which have or are planning to use some or all the 700 MHz for cellular services. He writes, “The EBU also accuses the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), an advisory group which assists the European Commission in the use and development of radio spectrum, of failing in its advice to the EU 'Mandating the 700 MHz band for use by mobile services is not acceptable,' says an EBU statement.'The incremental benefits are yet to be proven and the impact on [broadcasting] incumbents and citizens has not yet been assessed.'”

The GMSA, representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide, issued a press release generally supporting the recommendations, but added, “We are concerned that the report’s recommendations on the sub-700MHz (470-694MHz) band could put Europe at a competitive disadvantage compared to other regions. Limiting Europe’s flexibility on the possible co-existence of mobile and digital broadcast services until 2030 will discourage investment in world-leading mobile networks. Predictable, timely and affordable access to spectrum is an essential element for driving Europe's economic growth and job prospects, delivering significant socio-economic benefits for businesses and individuals.”

GMSA requested review of the sub-700 MHz band no later than 2020, instead of 2025. GMSA also asked the European Commission to support a co-primary allocation between broadcast and mobile services for the sub-700 MHz band at the World Radiocommunications Conference 2015 (WRC-2015), should a Member State propose it, to provide flexibility for national decisions.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.