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By Joe Kirwin
Sept. 2 — In order to break a long-running European Union deadlock between telecom operators and television broadcasters over the future distribution UHF spectrum a special European Commission report called for a transition process over the next 15 years that would transfer a share of the current UHF broadcast spectrum to be used for mobile broadband services.
In what was originally planned as a process to settle a dispute between the European telecoms and TV broadcast industries that has put the EU behind the United States and most Asian nations, the feud proved so intractable that report author Pascal Lamy, who previously served as head of the World Trade Organization, also called for broadcasters to have sole use of the sub-UHF spectrum (470-694MHz) until 2030.
“I have tried to achieve a comprehensive compromise package that ensures a win-win solution,” said Lamy. “Such a package of agreed points could not be achieved as a whole and therefore I put forward a formula for Europe to fulfill the digital agenda broadband targets in three steps, while giving broadcasting a clear path to invest and develop further.”
The “2020-2030-2025” formula, as Lamy called it, called for the following:
• The UHF or 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz), which is currently used by terrestrial broadcasting networks and wireless microphones, should be dedicated to wireless broadband across Europe by 2020 with a flexible transition period of plus or minus two years;
• regulatory security and stability for terrestrial broadcasters in the remaining UHF spectrum below 700 MHz should be safeguarded until 2030;
• A review should occur by 2025 to assess technology and market developments.
Lamy emphasized that a compromise was especially important in order to prevent fragmentation and spectrum distortion in the EU as some EU member states, including Germany, Sweden and Finland have already agreed to allocate UHF ban for wireless broadband services and therefore there is a risk of distortion at border areas. He also said it was crucial for the EU to reach a consensus in order to “influence international negotiations.”
In reaction to the report both the European mobile telecom operators and broadcasters explained their opposition to key elements of the compromise recommended by Lamy. In the case of the television broadcasters, which would lose 30 percent of their current spectrum assets and would have to develop more efficient compression and transmission technologies such as DVB-T@ or High Efficiency Vide Coding (HEVC), they said the 2020 date was too soon.
“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 digital terrestrial television (DTT) networks and consumer equipment, especially in countries where DTT is the main TV platform,” said Simon Fell, an official with European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which represents public broadcasters in the 28 EU member states.
The EBU also insisted that it must be fairly compensated for the loss of spectrum and the costs of developing new more efficient spectrum compression technology.
As for the European mobile telecom operators, it insisted that the Lamy 2020 plan for UHF and the 2030 sub-UHF spectrum transition should be accelerated and there should be more flexibility, especially in the case of the sub-UHF spectrum, for more “co-existence.”
“To close the gap with North America and Asia we believe it is 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,” said Anne Bouverot, the director general of GSMA, which represents all of the leading EU mobile telephone operators.
On the issue of the sub-UHF the GSMA said the 2030 deadline would also put the EU at a competitive disadvantage compared to the U.S. and Asia and that without more flexibility including the possibility of co-existence investment in networks would be diminished.
“We urge the European Commission to accelerate the review process of the sub-700 MHz ban from 2025 to 2020,” Bouverot said. “We also support a co-primary allocation between broadcast and mobile services for the sub-700 MHx band at the World Radiocommunications Conference in 2015 to provide flexibility for national decisions.”
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