The European Commission (EC) wants to move digital TV services from the valuable 700MHz spectrum in favour of 4G and 5G services in order to ensure Europe does not suffer from a capacity crunch in the years ahead.
The report – by Pascal Lamy, former chief of the World Trade Organisation and former European commissioner for Trade – began life in January when stakeholders across the telecoms sector such as the BBC and Vodafone got involved.
He was tasked with trying to find a strategy that could meet the competing demands of broadcasters and mobile opreators, both of which have been adamant that their need is greater for the spectrum.
The crux of the report relates to the valuable 694-790MHz band currently used for digital TV services. Lamy’s report says this should be made exclusively available to mobile operators by 2020, with two years’ leeway.
However, to try and appease operators, Lamy proposes that the remaining spectrum, 470-694MHz, is reserved solely for broadcasters until 2030, but with the option of reviewing this situation in 2025.
The mix of dates has seen the Lamy dub his report with the catchy moniker ‘2020-2030-2025’. He claimed his proposals represented the best outcome to try and appease everyone in the debate.
“For too long the broadband and broadcasting communities have been at loggerheads about the use of the UHF [ultra-high frequency] spectrum band. There have been many different views and perspectives,” he said.
“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.”
Vice president for the EC’s Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes gave her full backing to the proposals. “Lamy’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,” she said, as she also took to Twitter to back the report.
GSMA vs EBU
However, despite the best efforts of Lamy, dissenting voices have already been heard. Anne Bouverot, director general of GSMA, which represents mobile operators worldwide, has already sounded the alarm at letting broadcasters retain access to the sub-700MHz band until as late as 2025.
“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” she said. “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.”
Unsurprisingly, though, she welcomed the idea of giving operators sole access to the 700MHz range.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), meanwhile, said broadcasters must be financially compensated for having to give up their 700MHz holdings, as EBU director of Technology and Innovation Simon Fell explained.
“It is essential that broadcasters are not financially weakened by any loss of the 700MHz band. Member states must heed the report’s conclusions on compensation and transitional arrangements,” added Fell.
Ralph Rivera, BBC’s director of Future Media, welcomed the report for looking to provide stability on spectrum use for the years ahead.
“The BBC welcomes the recognition that broadcasters can only be expected to clear the 700MHz spectrum band if they receive certainty of access to their remaining spectrum and compensation for the transition,” he said.
The move to open up the 700MHz spectrum for mobile broadband services is something Ofcom is already considering, and it claims moving digital television spectrum again would not be as complicated as last time.
“[It] would not require another TV switchover, like the switch from analogue to digital TV, and could be accomplished without causing significant disruption to TV viewers,” it said in a report in May.
V3 contacted Ofcom for comment on the EC report but had received no reply at the time of publication.