EC launches public consultation on future use of 700MHz

The European Commission (EC) has announced a public consultation on the future use of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) 700MHz spectrum band. It is currently mostly used by the broadcasting sector in much of Europe, but it is increasingly sought after by telecoms providers for wireless broadband.

The band, which covers spectrum from 470MHz to 790MHz to be precise, is predominantly used by terrestrial TV across the EU. The frequencies are mostly received by rooftop antennas and free-to-air, as well as wireless audio equipment. However, with current technology and service demand, the block is becoming increasingly appropriate for the provision of higher-speed, wider-coverage wireless broadband services.

The International Telecommunications Union, the UN’s ICT body, acknowledged in 2012 that as of 2016 the 694-790MHz (as known as 700MHz) band could be used either for broadcasting or mobile services within the EU, depending on choice by each member state.

However, the EC seemed to indicate it wants to introduce a unified strategy for the use of the 700MHz across the union. “As radio waves know no borders and in the ambition to further develop the EU Digital Single Market, the EU needs to seize this opportunity and develop a coherent position on the future use the UHF band,” the commission said in a statement.

The consultation, which is open until the 12th of April 2015, proposes two options, originally outlined in the Lamy Report that was published in August 2014. The first option suggested a scenario where the 694-790MHz bands would be released from broadcasting to wireless broadband across the continent by 2020, give or take a few years. The remaining spectrum below 700MHz would then be secured for terrestrial broadcasters until 2030, with a review of technology and market developments in 2025.

The second proposed scenario, dubbed by the EC as the ‘flexibility option’, would see downlink-only wireless broadband use within the 470-694MHz band. This would mean broadcasters would always have priority, while any unused channels or locations would be freed for downlink broadband traffic.

The EC seeks opinion on the matter from the industry, academia and users of TV and/or wireless broadband services. “The Commission particularly hopes that consumers and their associations will give their views as any future developments in this field could affect the quantity and quality of broadcasting services and could mean that equipment, including TV sets needs upgrading or replacing as well as the development potential of wireless broadband services,” the commission said.

Indeed, the broadcast industry has previously expressed concern for the plans, over the first proposed scenario in particular, saying the early release of the spectrum would likely make broadcast services unstable.

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