EU Members States are set to retain the primary allocation to broadcasting and propose to add a secondary allocation to mobile services for the sub-700 MHz UHF band at WRC-23. This is believed to be the position adopted last week by the Council of the EU in a binding decision taken ahead of the ITU World Radiocommunications Conference, to be held in November/December in Dubai. In the same week, the coordinating body for European spectrum regulators, the CEPT, adopted a similar proposal that supports a secondary allocation to mobile services in the same band, with a possible upgrade to a primary allocation at WRC-31 based on an evaluation of the situation in the intervening period. This follows the RSPG* Recommendation on AI 1.5 in their Opinion on WRC-23.
The future use of the UHF band between 470 and 694 MHz in ITU Region 1 (Europe, Africa and Middle East) is one of the most controversial topics to be discussed at WRC-23. It is the only band harmonized for digital terrestrial television (DTT) and is also used by wireless microphones (audio PMSE**), essential for the creative and content production industries.
The mobile industry has been lobbying strongly to add further UHF spectrum to that already allocated for 4G/5G at previous WRCs, i.e. the 900, 800 and 700 MHz bands. ITU studies have shown that these two services – mobile and broadcasting – cannot share the spectrum without causing interference to each other.
The proposals from the EU and the CEPT are to maintain the primary allocation of the sub-700 MHz band to broadcasting until at least 2031, recognizing the important public value of DTT and PMSE. Although the situation varies from country to country, DTT reaches over 250 million European citizens, providing free-to-air media content to everyone. Having primary access to the band is also crucial to enable continued innovation. The broadcast community, in collaboration with mobile manufacturers, has standardized the 5G Broadcast system, which targets the distribution of linear free-to-air media content to mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, cars). 5G Broadcast is designed to use the 470–694 MHz band alongside DTT and PMSE without the need for regulatory changes.
Broadcasters and others
European broadcasters, represented by the EBU, support a position of “no change” to the current allocations in the 470–694 MHz band, believing that DTT and PMSE will need to retain access to the band well beyond 2030 in most European countries. This position is also held by two key regional organizations, the ATU (African Telecommunications Union), which comprises 51 countries, and RCC (Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications), with 12 countries. The only regional organization that formally supports a co-primary mobile allocation within the band under consideration is the ASMG (Arab Spectrum Management Group) which gathers 22 countries.
This diverstiy of positions among the regional organizations indicates that negotiations towards consensus on this agenda item at WRC-23 will be complex. The EBU and its Members will participate in the conference and will ensure that the public interest is protected in these negotiations.
*Radio Spectrum Policy Group
** Programme making and special events