EU proposals to make 700MHz band ready for wireless broadband in 2020
Ofcom has been working towards the shift of Digital TV and wireless microphones out of the 694 MHz to 790 MHz (700 MHz band) area for some time and the latest report from Pascal Lamy to the EU outlines what could happen across the EU.
- Repurpose 700 MHz band for wireless broadband, with a time window of 2020 plus or minus two years. This is believed to be long enough to allow for minimal cost to broadcasters and people who will upgrade from old DTT kit that does not support lower bands over time.
- Ensure stability of regulation for the remaining 470 MHz to 694 MHz for broadcasters and reject any plans to use frequency in this block for mobile broadband.
- Re-visit the way that the spectrum is being used in 2025, and thus be ready to take account of changes e.g. broadcast TV has naturally moved to IPTV delivery over fibre based services.
For UK broadcasters none of this should be a surprise, Ofcom has consulted on this exact topic for some years now, and as Ultra HD starts to become more interesting (oddly during the World Cup stores tried to sell TV sets on support of UHD, even though no football was broadcast in UHD) the reality that DTT may not be up to the task will become more of an issue. Ofcom has suggested that a single multiplex that can transmit 20 to 30 SD channels might only manage 1 UHD channel using MPEG4 or two or three channels using the more efficient HEVC system.
The much complained about move of BBC Three to an IPTV only channel in 2015 will be a key test for the UK market. The move was said to be a money saving exercise by the BBC, but by experimenting with the generation who are hooked to being connected 24/7 it will prove a real world test of whether IPTV is mainstream or not in the UK.
The appeal of the 700 MHz band to mobile broadband services is that has much better reach and penetration into buildings, combine that with improved efficiencies that 5G is promising and while we will not see 10 Gbps to our mobile phones we may see some interesting innovation e.g. a FreeView set-top box with built in 5G modem that picks up the big five terrestrial channels over the old fashioned aerial and the other channels delivered over IP multi-cast or full on demand IPTV.
Broadcast TV is far from dead, but the masses of channels down an aerial era may be ending, with just the key channels broadcast over free-to-air radio spectrum and the second tier channels living a free-over-IP life.