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The second coming … or maybe the third??

February 28, 2012

My colleague Tim Forde and I have spent much of the last few days discussing all the current activity in the TV bands (yes we have exciting lives) – the WRC-12 agenda turned on its head leading to the proposed second digital dividend for Europe, incentive auctions in the USA, 800 MHz consultations in the UK …

There seems to be a lot going on but a lot that is not, in my opinion, leading any where good in spectrum management.

 The Many Activities Around the TV Bands
(Click on the picture for bigger view)

Let’s start at the beginning – the first digital dividend.  As we all know the switch over to digital TV brings an opportunity to clear some of the TV bands because digital TV is more spectrally efficient than analogue. The cleared bands are typically referred to as a digital dividend because they can be auctioned and used for new services bringing income to the state.  The figure above is a simplified figure showing the digital dividend bands across the three ITU regions as identified in WRC-07.  The grey areas are the so called digital dividend bands. Around the world the switch-off of analogue TV and the clearing out of the identified bands is happening at very different rates. The USA got off the mark quickly and cleared their bands and held the very well published 700 MHz auctions in the 698-806 MHz range (marked in red). We in Ireland are still getting there on the other hand.

All this clearing and rearranging is leading to much activity.

In the UK for example Ofcom are concerned with how new services in the cleared 790-862 MHz band (namely LTE services) will inadvertently affect DTT transmissions in the upper part of the 698-790 MHz band. They have just produced a second consultation document on this issue. In fact Ofcom is actually setting up a company called MitCo to deal with the households will have this problem. The solution basically involves filters for DTT receivers but they will in fact go as far as replacing the TV platform if there is no other option – and I quote from the consultation document –

3.14 Out of the small proportion of the households who require a platform change, an
alternative platform may not be available. This is estimated to be around 3% of the
houses who need a platform change. Government has decided that such households
should receive additional assistance to restore some form of TV service. Up to
£10,000 per affected household would be made available to provide this additional

This could be summarised as an INCENTIVE TO STAY PUT.

Though staying put may not be an option –  digital dividend 2 is potentially on the way. At the recent WRC meeting Arab and African countries put the pressure on the ITU to allocate 694 to 790 MHz to mobile services and hence bring with it a second digital dividend. In other words to bring Region 1 in line with Region 2 (and parts of Region 3). There has been much coverage of this move for those who want to read more.

In the meantime, the USA is now attempting to clear more of the TV bands by using incentive auctions.   A bill has been passed  authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions for broadcast spectrum. Sec. 4103 of the bill “grants the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions under which it shares some of the proceeds with licensees who return spectrum.” These voluntary incentive auctions provide a means for current licensees of valuable but underutilized frequencies to be compensated for surrendering all or part of their spectrum, while making it available for high-demand mobile wireless services and of course TV broadcast spectrum would be an ideal candidate for this. Tim  pointed out that the House of Representatives has supported this move for all the wrong reasons. I tend to agree. It seems to be about a deficit reduction (i.e. getting money from the sale of spectrum). However sometimes people do the right things for the totally wrong reasons! And maybe some of the ideas make sense.

This could be summarised as an INCENTIVE TO GET OUT.

So where are we?

1. We see incentives to stay put that in my opinion are all about leaving consumer electronics off the hook for continuing to use substandard cheap receivers.

2. We see a potential second digital dividend  in region 1 that would render the fussing about interference from LTE into DDT systems at the border of the first digital dividend band and the DTT bands totally unnecessary – or in other words is just shifting the problem to a new spectral location.

3. We  hear speak of the second digital dividend leading to a realignment across regions but when we look closely it is only a realignment in gesture.  The figure below shows a potential band plan for the second digital dividend in region 1 versus the band plan for the same spectrum range in region 2.

4.We  see an emerging second digital dividend in the US being born out of potential incentive auctions that would cause further issues. So we need to ask whether this means there needs to be a third digital dividend in region 1 to realign again with region 2?

5.  We see a complete eroding of TV White spaces.

So what does all this mean?

I suppose this is somewhat of a matter of opinion.

In my opinion it is gone way beyond time for defining receiver rights and obligations and using receiver-centric licensing schemes. Service and technology neutral receiver-centric licensing schemes of course.

In my opinion we need to stop unnecessary  labeling of spectrum as paired and unpaired and uplink and downlink.  This is crazy and is forcing, albeit in a more benign fashion, the regulator to pick winners.  I have actually heard argue that our commitment to FDD is in fact historical and no longer technical. That is for another day but the fact remains over labeling of spectrum resources, channelisation by supposed consensus of stake-holders or understanding of today’s technology should be resigned to the past!

In my opinion the research game is over in TV white spaces – actually whether or not any of the above materializes there are devices in production now.

In my opinion we need to start thinking about turning off DTT and rethinking how we support public broadcasting services in different ways.

Mismatched Band Plans!
(Click for larger view)

  1. Jim Connolly permalink

    WRC-12 decided that the lower limit for the 2nd digital dividend band should be 694 MHz (not 698 MHz) and importantly also agreed that the next WRC in 2015 will ‘refine’ the lower edge, i.e., it is possible that the lower band edge could extend even further into the current broadcasting band. However, this will depend on staudies carried out in the interim and europe will have some interesting choices to make.

  2. Thanks – will fix that lower end in the post!

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