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David Hemingway (BBC), Chair of EBU strategic programme on Spectrum
For the last 50 years, we have relied on the UHF frequency band for delivery of terrestrial television. The move from analogue to digital allowed the release of some of the UHF band to be used instead for mobile broadband systems – first 4G and now 5G. Broadcasters also use the UHF band for programme production technologies, interleaved between the television transmissions: radio mics, talkback systems and in-ear monitors. We have innovated in those too: moving to digital systems, squeezing more channels into the same spectrum and moving out of spectrum earmarked for mobile broadband. Regardless of how we distribute our finished content or how important DTT is in our countries, we all use those production systems for making programmes – without them, our content offering would be much poorer.
And we continue to innovate in the technology we use to deliver our content. We need to respond to changing audience behaviour, especially among younger audiences. Reaching younger audiences is challenging, due to both the type of content they enjoy and the ways we deliver it. Their preferred viewing device has moved from TV sets to smartphones and tablets. Direct delivery to those devices, in a way that is both spectrum- and cost-efficient, is key.
The EBU has been looking at ways to utilize mobile networks that could be beneficial to Members. To that end we have added elements into the 5G standard that can enable a ‘5G Broadcast’ system capable of delivering content to mobile devices efficiently and without data costs. Even better, it can be used in the existing UHF band, under the rules of the Geneva 2006 Agreement, requiring no new spectrum to be allocated. Broadcasters could (subject to agreement with their national regulator, of course) swap out DVB-based systems for 5G Broadcast – this is especially attractive in those countries where DTT take-up is low. For those Members operating in countries where DTT is important, they could continue to use DTT for as long as their audiences demand it.
One of the great innovations of the last decade or so, of course, has been the ability to deliver content by IP. This isn’t just a great leap forward in technology, but has enabled, and will continue to enable, new types of content to be made and delivered to our audiences. That, however, should not detract from the continued importance of broadcast delivery of our programmes. Consumption of AV content is shifting to IP, but slowly, much more slowly than many predicted. For public service content, delivering high social and cultural value across Europe, broadcasting remains supremely important. More than 80% of our viewing and listening is still delivered through broadcast platforms: terrestrial (DTT, FM, DAB), satellite and cable. These numbers very between countries, of course – for some EBU Members, online delivery is higher but for many it remains low.
Changes not necessary
At the 2023 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), national regulators from Europe, Africa and the Middle East will discuss the future use of the remaining UHF spectrum that we use for DTT. The EBU believes that we can continue to innovate in our use of this band, both to create and to deliver public value for our audiences in new and exciting ways, without the need to make changes in the international treaty that governs use of radio spectrum.
Broadcasters have created a virtuous circle in their use of UHF spectrum: it allows us to both distribute our programmes in a highly efficient way, helping to ensure universal access to public service content, and we use it for programme-making applications, creating content that would not be possible without it. Destabilizing this arrangement by amending spectrum management regulation is both risky and unnecessary.