The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radio Conference 2012 (WRC-12 from 23 January to 17 February 2012) concluded with a decision to allocate additional UHF spectrum to mobile services in ITU Region 1 (consisting of Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East).
The new mobile allocation is to be made from 694–790MHz, and is proposed to come into force in 2015. The delay to 2015 is in order to enable the necessary technical studies to be concluded regarding the availability and assignment of the new band, before bringing the band into use.
This 'second digital dividend' in ITU Region 1 is adjacent to the first digital dividend at 800MHz (from 790-862MHz), which was put into place at the previous WRC, in 2007 (WRC-07).
Janette Stewart, analyst with Analysys Mason, said there are three principal factors which have led to the decision to allocate a second digital dividend in ITU Region 1.
The first reason is that it enables countries in Africa and the Middle East (where parts of the 800MHz band are used for other systems and services) to proceed with awarding digital dividend spectrum in the 700MHz band.
The second is that the 700MHz band provides additional bandwidth that can be used to accommodate mobile broadband services in Europe, in response to various estimates that the current spectrum availability for mobile broadband use may be insufficient to meet demand in future.
Finally, the 700MHz allocation in Europe raises the prospect of harmonisation with other ITU world regions, where use of the 700MHz band (although a slightly different bandwidth, from 698-806MHz) was agreed at WRC-07.
However, implementing the new 700MHz allocation within ITU Region 1 will create a number of challenges, acknowledged by the ITU-R (ITU Radiocommunication Sector) in its decision that the new allocation should not come into force until 2015.
They key challenge according to Stewart, is that that the spectrum is used for digital terrestrial television broadcasting, especially in UK, Spain, France, Portugal and Italy. These services would have to be moved involving an expensive retuning exercise. In addition, ancillary broadcasting services also use the spectrum and finding alternative spectrum could prove tricky, said Stewart
The other big challenge in making the 700MHz band available for mobile use, according to Stewart is to determine an appropriate band plan that will facilitate harmonisation with other world regions. This is primarily because WRC-07 allocated a slightly different 700MHz band in other ITU regions (from
698–806MHz, which overlaps with the Region 1 800MHz band).
Despite these challenges Stewart said that the spectrum could provide Europe with much needed additional bandwidth for commercial mobile broadband services in the future. It may also offer a solution to the needs of European public safety organisations, which are currently seeking additional spectrum for future mission-critical mobile broadband networks.
Click here to read Janette Stewart’s full comment on the WRC-12 decision and the challenges that decision presents to operators and regulators.