Harmonization essential to digital dividend

The impending transition of analogue terrestrial television to digital terrestrial television (DTT) has the potential to enable a significant reconfiguration of UHF Bands IV and V, which are particularly well suited to wireless broadband communications. The spectrum freed by this switchover is referred to as the ‘digital dividend'.

Making some digital dividend spectrum available to other uses, in particular wireless broadband communications services such as LTE, will maximize socio-economic value.
In the Asia-Pacific region the switchover is due by 2020. However, some regulators and policy makers are seeking to make spectrum available for mobile broadband sooner. Wireless is the technology of choice for broadband in many developing Asian countries. In more developed countries, high smartphone penetration is the most important driver of capex, and more spectrum is essential to mitigate the costs of deploying ever-increasing capacity.         
Sufficient spectrum should remain allocated to terrestrial broadcasting, particularly in countries where it remains the main medium to access television services. However, a well-designed DTT network could carry a large number of channels (e.g. 40 channels, local or national) using just 200 MHz of spectrum, out of over 500 MHz of digital dividend Ð which leaves ample spectrum for other uses.
Coordination and harmonization are essential to enable the following benefits:
  • Efficiency gains through similar spectrum planning in neighboring countries
  • Economies of scale, both for network equipment and terminals/handsets
  • Interoperability and roaming benefits, facilitating economic integration.
  • For smaller countries, these benefits are even starker, as a small country with a custom band plan would be unlikely to attract interest from the major equipment vendors and would be limited to lower quality and higher price equipment. 
As part of its remit to facilitate harmonization of spectrum use in APAC, APT Wireless Group (AWG) has defined a preferred band plan for use of digital dividend spectrum with wireless broadband services.
Large stakeholders in the region support the plan. India and Australia have announced compatible spectrum releases, and Indonesia and New Zealand have made supportive public announcements.
At the recent ITU World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-12), delegates examined harmonization on a worldwide level. Their conclusions are encouraging other regions to identify new bands compatible with the AWG band.
The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) welcomed this as a complement to its own initial band planning for the digital dividend, in 790-862 MHz. India and Indonesia have announced their intention to adopt the AWG band plans.
However, regulators and policy makers should carry out assessments of what spectrum must be reserved for broadcasting, based on national and local considerations, and make detailed plans on how to refarm spectrum in order to support growth in the region. This implies three broad steps:
  • Analyse the socio-economic value of spectrum for different uses
  • Design and implement effective and economically efficient transition plans from analogue to DTT broadcasting, including distribution and financing of set-top boxes for vulnerable users
  • Establish spectrum release and pricing rules to increase efficiency of spectrum that does not need to be set aside on social grounds.
David Abecassis is a senior manager at Analysys Mason and is based in Singapore.