National governments must announce their plans to move TV broadcasters below the 700 MHz band by 2017, which will be assigned exclusively to wireless broadband by 2020.
“Spectrum is a scarce resource: we need to make the best of it,” said the Eurppean Commission’s Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Andrus Ansip on Tuesday (2 February). The strategic importance of the radio spectrum has increased in recent years due to the intense usage of mobile broadband, online videos and the upcoming era of connected objects (the Internet of Things).
In order to accommodate the growing needs of internet “on the move” in the existing spectrum landscape, largely dominated by TV broadcasters, the Commission proposed on 2 February to allocate the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) for wireless broadband. The audiovisual sector will be moved ro the sub-700 MHz band (470-694 MHz).
This division follows the agreed upon position reached by internet operators and broadcasters and summarized by Pascal Lamy in his report in 2014. Although the audiovisual sector accepted to release all spectrum above 700 MHz, the TV channels were concerned about the flexibility granted to member states to allocate spectrum in the sub-700 MHz band for other purposes.
The executive has limited this flexibility for downlink-only transmission from the network to TV sets or tablets, not to upload content to the Internet, which generates greater interferences to broadcasters. A Commission official explained that the sub-700 MHz band could be used for other purposes only if the member states guarantee that it would not generate any harmful interferences in the audiovisual sector.
This major reconfiguration of the radio spectrum will require a hug effort from member states and broadcasters, in order to set the stage in time for the arrival of the 5G. This will play a crucial role in improving Europe’s competitiveness in the context of the digitalisation of industry, and the Internet of Things.
The 28 member states will need to announce their national plans for releasing this 700 MHz band, and for network coverage, by June 2017. Neighbouring states will need to conclude cross-border coordination agreements by the end of that year to ensure a proper coverage and no interference in bordering regions.
According to the Commission, this schedule allows national governments to have enough time to prepare for the transition to the new system by June 2020 under harmonised conditions.
To this end, more digital terrestrial television (DTT) channels will have to be broadcast under the sub-700 MHz band. In order to find room for all the channels, new compression and transmission technologies will be “particularly important”, the executive emphasised in the proposal.
The implementation of new technologies will require fresh investment from the TV channels, the European Broadcasting Union pointed out. In order to bring this compression and transmission technology to market, the EBU called for guarantees that the sub-700 MHz band will continue in the audiovisual sector’s hands until 2030, as it was initially suggested by the Lamy report.
Meanwhile, individual users will also have to buy new TV sets or adapt their old models, with costs that could amount to €150 in some cases.
Member states already agreed on this division of spectrum for the upcoming years during the World Radiocommunication Conference in November last year.
However, this will be the first time that the European Commission intervenes in spectrum management, a highly sensitive issue not only because of its importance for technological development, but also for the significant revenues it brings through licenses to the national authorities.
A Commission official underlined that this proposal does not intend to take any money from national coffers.
The executive expects broad support among the member states. France and Germany have already decided to allocate the 700 MHz band for mobile services, while Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom have announced plans to follow their steps.
“We propose a joint approach,” said Ansip, because “28 different approaches to manage radio frequencies in the EU do not make economic sense in the Digital Single Market”.
The executive urged legislators to adopt the proposal this year, since a “swift adoption is “essential for the success” of the DSM.