Trade body the GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, has called on the European Commission to accelerate the repurposing of the UHF spectrum band (470-790MHz) better to respond to the changing ways content is being accessed. The move puts the GSMA in direct opposition to the European Broadcasting Union, which argues that an early release date is likely to cause disruption to TV services in a number of Member States.
Responding to the European Commission’s report on the future use of the UHF spectrum, Anne Bouverot, Director General, said the GSMA welcomed the call for the 700MHz band to be repurposed for mobile broadband in the European Union by 2020, but in order to close the gap with North America and Asia, it believed it was essential that Member States have flexibility to move sooner, preferably between 2018 and 2020 and potentially earlier, to respond to the sustained growth in mobile data traffic and the dramatic change in the way citizens across Europe are watching news and entertainment content, relying more and more on the Internet to access programming.
“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,” she contended.
“We do think the ‘flexibility option’ proposed by Mr. Lamy, which would potentially allow some mobile downlink connectivity in traditional broadcast spectrum, merits additional analysis. However, we urge the European Commission to accelerate the review process of the sub-700 MHZ band that has been suggested by Mr. Lamy, which would be undertaken no later than 2025 in any event,” said Bouverot.
According to the GSMA, an earlier review would allow some Member States the ability to meet the needs of the rapidly evolving media and mobile communications markets in the longer term. It suggested that the following changes would safeguard the future of both mobile and broadcast services:
Request an early review of the sub-700MHz band no later than 2020, instead of 2025, to ensure that Europe can respond to the rapidly evolving mobile and media markets; and
Support a co-primary allocation between broadcast and mobile services for the sub-700MHz band at the World Radiocommunication Conference-2015, should a Member State propose it, to provide flexibility for national decisions.
“We respectfully ask the European Commission to adopt a long-term strategy for the sub-700MHz band that allows individual Member States to decide whether to keep traditional broadcast services in the spectrum or to provide more spectrum for mobile broadband to expand social and economic opportunity throughout Europe,” she concluded.
The call for early release is in opposition to the views of the European Broadcasting Union.
Simon Fell, the EBU’s Head of Technology & Innovation, said it was essential that broadcasters were not financially weakened by any loss of the 700MHz band. “Member States must heed the report’s conclusions on compensation and transitional arrangements,” declared Fell. All costs should be offset, including investments in new and even more efficient technologies and the expense of mitigating mobile interference of DTT reception, according to the EBU, which expressed concern about the recommendations that the 700 MHz band be released to other stakeholders, especially mobile phone operators, by 2020 with the flexibility of +/- 2 years.
“There is a danger that this will not give broadcasters and viewers enough time to adapt to appropriate spectrum arrangements and ensure the necessary upgrade of DTT networks and consumer equipment, especially in countries where DTT is the main TV platform,” said Fell.
The broadcasting industry argues that an early release date is likely to cause disruption to TV services in a number of Member States, especially where, owing to the lack of capacity, the transition reduces the volume and quality of content offered to viewers.