The 470-694 MHz frequency band has been a widely talked about topic in the UHF Broadcasting and the Mobile Network Industries for the past 4 years. The current occupiers in this spectrum are terrestrial television providers, and with the primary consumer device today being the big-screen home TV, this band is extremely important in providing linear, and often public, television to homes.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Region 1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East (west of the Persian Gulf), and the whole of the territory of Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Ukraine., Region 2 (The Americas) and Region 3 (Asia).
Terrestrial television provision is a vital component in today’s technology industry, contributing revenues of $5.5 billion, which is expected to increase by a further $1.8 billion by 2020. On top of this with the ITU setting a 'soft' analogue switch off (ASO) and digital switch over (DSO) date of the 17th of June 2015 for its Regions, service providers all over the world have been decommissioning old analogue technologies and investing in installing digital equipment, in the anticipation that they will be able to offer a greater quality of service to their existing customer base over at least the next decade. However, it was predicted long before 2015, that many countries will not be able to set their digital transmissions up in the next several years, hence, they could not meet the ITU’s deadline.
Western Europe was big advocates of the switch over and in particular broadcasters like the BBC (UK), RAI (Italy), ARD (Germany) and France Television (France) who all switched their analogue services off by 2012. Although this deadline has not been met by all (the majority of these being developing countries and Russia that is now planning to switch off by 2019), the global decision to switch over has been made and will still be enforced on those who haven’t once the next deadline is set, which is 2020.
The other part to this technological switch over involves tracking the rolling out of digital terrestrial towers (DTT). Over the last ten years the first real spike in digital tower installations came in 2006, rising from just above 8,500 units to 25,175 units, added to the global network. Unsurprisingly, 94% of these net additions to the DTT industry came in Western Europe. The market ticked over however for the next two years until 2009 and 2010 where again net additional units increased to above 16,000 in both years. The final spike came in 2015, where net additional units increased to 26,436 globally, with the big movers coming from ITU Region 1. Eastern Europe made up 10,505 of this, Africa 5,190 and the Middle East 1,518, with a combined net addition of digital towers equalling 65% of the global increase in 2015.
In essence operators in the global terrestrial television industry and in particular Region 1 operators, have been making the transition and they need the spectrum that the industry possess to continue to offer this service, with the 470-694 MHz band being a key component of this.
This potential threat to terrestrial television’s 470-694 MHz band came at World Radiocommunications Conference in 2012 and in the lead up to WRC-15 from mobile. There are currently almost 3.5 billion individual smartphone units worldwide and this is forecasted to grow to close to 6 billion by 2019. On top of this, with smartphones encouraging users to use data on the go, mobile data traffic has been on track to grow at 93% CAGR from 2007-2017. These trends highlight mobile’s case for wanting more spectrum. To meet this increase in unique subscribers the ITU estimates that an additional 1340 -1960 MHz will be required by mobile to meet this forecasted demand and the band 470-694 MHz offers them excellent range and indoor penetration, provide coverage for machine-to-machine services and the foundations for 5G networks.
The conclusion from WRC-15 showed that ITU member states believed the 470-694 MHz band to be too important for terrestrial television and Programme Making & Special Events industry and therefore mobile will not be allowed to operate on a co-primary basis in this band as of now. More importantly with the decision being no change in this band, this stance will be carried forward through WRC-19 also and this ultra-high frequency (UHF) band will at a minimum, be under review at WRC-2023.
This result aligns Region 1 to Regions 2 and 3 in the ITU classification and provides Europe with relief that their heavy investment will be secure for at least another eight years and that the Middle East and Africa can continue to invest in the roll out of DTT.