Mobile industry snubs EBU overtures over harmonized spectrum

The EBU (European Broadcasting Union) has been reaching out to mobile operators in a bid to reach a compromise that will secure the future of over the air broadcasting beyond 2020. But so far these efforts have been largely rebuffed by the cellular sector, which was conspicuous by its absence at a recent event staged jointly by the EBU and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute)

The joint EBU/ETSI meeting was to examine general trends in wireless media distribution after 2020. The aim was to overcome current divisions and bring together strategic and technical experts from both the mobile and broadcasting sectors to identify how to cater for the needs of both, given that ultimately wireless spectrum must be shared.

The absence of mobile operators at the event was a disappointment, admitted Simon Fell, EBU's Technical Director. “By working together the mobile and broadcasting sectors can address many of the technology challenges, but this work must start quickly,” he said.

Despite lack of mobile representation there were presentations at the EBU/ETSI event on both next generation 5G cellular technology and the impact of LTE Broadcast, which enables operators to alternate between unicast and multicast transmission according to level of demand for a given video stream within individual cells. When the number of users accessing a stream simultaneously passes a set threshold, LTE Broadcast can be invoked to multicast video over the backhaul network such that it is never sent more than once over a given link. Then each stream is broadcast rather than unicast within the cell or Radio Access Network (RAM) to save on spectrum there.

The desire among broadcasters for collaboration with the cellular sector over development of 5G to accommodate the needs of TV as well as other mobile services was highlighted at the EBU/ETSI event by Graham Mills, DVB Commercial Module Chair. Spectrum would be utilised more effectively by organising it from the ground up for sharing between broadcasting and mobile services, rather than partitioning it between them.

But as one observer at the event conceded afterwards, there seems little interest at present from LTE operators in satisfying the demand for TV services currently met by the DVB through its DTT platform. Much the same applies to other digital terrestrial platforms around the world, such as ATSC in North America.

Ben Keen, analyst from IHS,  believes DTT will continue to dominate media distribution well beyond 2018.

Ben Keen, analyst from IHS, believes DTT will continue to dominate media distribution well beyond 2018.

The EBU/ETSI concluded with the optimistic note that the mobile industry will have to take account of broadcasting needs after 2020, which is the year set within the European Union for completion of its Digital Agenda for delivering ubiquitous high broadband access. As part of this agenda, the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) currently used by terrestrial broadcasting networks is to be reallocated across Europe, but with the remaining UHF spectrum below 700 MHz originally set to be retained for DTT until 2030. The broadcasting sector has conceded the 700 MHz band but there has also been lobbying from the mobile sector for the sub 700 MHz band between 470 and 694 MHz to be switched from DTT to mobile services over the 2015 to 2030 period as well. This prompted the EBU to publish a report in November 2014 claiming that the cost of migrating the sub 700 MHz band from DTT to mobile would be at least four times greater than the benefits accrued.

This recent EBU/ETSI conference is evidence of a more recent conciliatory approach by broadcasters, in effect conceding that mobile services will be admitted to all parts of the spectrum including the sub 700 MHz band, while lobbying for a hybrid approach combining all media over common wireless access networks in the 5G era.

The trouble is that so far at least mobile operators have shown little inclination to join the party, believing that over time given the tide towards video distribution over IP they will take over wireless content delivery services from broadcasters in any case. This feeling certainly emerged from the last Mobile World Congress held in February 2015 in Barcelona. 5G was a major focus there, with the Far East leading the pace. South Korean operators SK Telecom and KT Corp flagged their intention of having 5G networks in place by 2018, when the country is due to host the Winter Olympics. Japan’s NTT DoCoMo aims to have a 5G network up and running in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. LTE Broadcast will figure prominently in such deployments, with MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) suggesting it will enable them to come in and compete strongly with existing operators and broadcasters in provision of video services. They have no wish to share spectrum with broadcasters who will become their competitors, if they can help it.

But the EBU did at least receive encouragement from Ben Keen media analyst at IHS Group, at the joint event with ETSI. Keen reckoned that DTT would continue to play a dominant role in broadcasting well beyond 2018, implying that MNOs would have to take account of this.

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