EC proposes TV spectrum for WiMax

UHF spectrum could be used for mobile broadband services once the analogue TV signal is turned off, but views differ on whether money or public interest should win out

UHF spectrum should be allocated to WiMax once Europe's analogue television signals are phased out, the European commissioner for information society and media has proposed.

Viviane Reding made the suggestion during a broadband-related speech in Greece at the start of June. Noting that plans were already underway across Europe to open up the 2.6GHz band for mobile broadband usage, which could be WiMax or a variation of 3G, she again called the so-called digital dividend — the freeing up of spectrum brought about by the switch from analogue to digital — a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to tackle the digital divide.

"If we want significant wireless broadband speeds at a low price we will need more frequency in spectrum ranges that have high propagation characteristics," Reding said. "Policy makers need to look at the digital dividend created by the switch over from analogue to digital TV very closely to see if they can carve out space for wireless broadband in the UHF space. Even a relatively small part of this spectrum range could provide the basis, bridging the digital divide in rural areas in a scalable and cost-effective manner, as well as providing the basis for an alternative infrastructure competition in both urban and rural communities."

The spectrum in question lies between 500MHz and 800MHz. Because this is a much lower frequency range than the 2.6GHz and 5.8GHz bands currently mooted for WiMax and 3G's long-term evolution (LTE), it offers the possibility of far larger cell sizes.

Ofcom is already proposing to repackage UHF spectrum into bundles for use by multiple technologies once the digital switchover is completed. The telecoms regulator welcomed Reding's words — at least in part. "We are confident our proposals are compatible with what is being discussed at a European level," an Ofcom spokesperson told "There is a large amount of spectrum — around 112MHz — that will be made available, and we have made it clear that there is potential for many different users and uses of that spectrum." The spokesperson pointed out that a further consultation document on the digital dividend would emerge later this year.

However, one part of Reding's speech drew a different response. The commissioner sang the praises of "more competition, more services and more choice", which are ideals close to Ofcom's heart. "But," she added, "this would have to be done on the basis of the public interest. I do not believe that high stakes auctions in which only those with the deepest pockets can take part would be effective. We need to encourage investment and competition — we need cheap, wide-band services for all."

"The situation is a little more complicated than that," said Ofcom's spokesperson in response. "It is the organisations that have the business plans to make the most effective use of that spectrum and maximise revenues [that will win out] if we have an auction mechanism."

On the subject of the digital divide, Ofcom insisted that the gap in broadband connectivity between urban and rural areas in the UK is narrowing, as evidenced by recent research showing that 41 percent of adults in rural areas had broadband at home, as opposed to 45 percent of adults in urban areas. The spokesperson also pointed to Ofcom's recent decision to allow higher-powered transmission in the 5.8GHz band.


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