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A deal signed today by representatives of 165 countries has greatly increased the likelihood of a second digital switchover across Europe. This could involve viewers having to retune their sets or buy a new set top box or TV. It comes only a few years after they had to replace equipment to receive digital terrestrial television.

The agreement was made at the World Radio Conference (WRC) in Geneva, held by the United Nations body with responsibility for Information and Communications Technology, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Delegates agreed to clear the way for mobile services in the 700 MHz band, which is currently used for terrestrial TV in most of Europe. The deal means that from 2015 mobile services operating in this band could legally demand protection from interference by other countries.

In practice this means that the 700 MHz band could not be used for mobile and broadcasting where two countries shared a land border as the mobile signals would be drowned out by the high power broadcasting signal. This creates a strong pressure for regional blocks, like the EU, to use the 700 MHz band for either broadcasting or mobile.

The switchover from analogue to digital TV has freed up the 800 MHz band for mobile services, a process known as the digital dividend and coordinated across Europe. This was agreed over the past few years, and the emergence of this deal for a second “digital dividend” in 700 MHz has taken many by surprise.

Furthermore, 700 MHz will be globally harmonised as it is also a mobile band in North America and the Asia - Pacific. Today’s agreement will ultimately extend that arrangement to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Ironically, what may be a headache for Europe will be good news for Africa and the Middle East who proposed the 700 MHz mobile agreement. In these two regions 800 MHz is used for other services, meaning that they would have had little or no “digital dividend” from the switch to digital terrestrial TV. Giving them access to 700 MHz would bring huge economic benefits by allowing the roll out of wireless broadband networks in a much shorter timescale than the wired equivalent.

“This WRC decision doesn’t mean that any European government has to move TV out of 700 MHz but it certainly tips the scales in the decision making process,” said Martin Sims, PolicyTracer’s Managing Editor. ‘If a significant number of European countries want to have mobile in 700 MHz this wouldn’t be practical unless the whole region went along with them. The economies of scale associated with a global market mean that 700 MHz mobile handsets could be cheaper, creating a powerful incentive for a second TV switchover,” he argued.

/ends

Please contact Martin Sims martin@policytracker.com on +44 (0)7946 485420 or +44(0)7100 2875

Editors note

PolicyTracker is the spectrum management newsletter and has been published online and in printed form since 2004. We also provide consultancy services, market the Global Spectrum Database and organise conferences and training courses. For more details please see [http://www.policytracker.com]

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