Time for the Second Digital Dividend

The two biggest competitors for frequencies below 1 GHz are terrestrial TV and mobile services. As long as advanced technologies, such as cognitive radios or white space solutions, are not available, these two cannot share frequencies; any allocation to one party excludes the other party. It seems clear that mobile services deserve an increasing share of the scarce resources since mobile data is in increase while terrestrial TV is likely to lose importance.

TV is on its way to IP delivery and broadband. If you have a look at the connection panel of any new high-end TV set, it is closer to that of laptops than that of traditional TV sets. Antenna connections continue to be there and TV can still be connected either to terrestrial, cable or satellite networks. However, TV can also be connected to fixed or wireless broadband and a number of local content sources. Hence traditional antenna connection is not more than one option among others.

The evidence of transformation is further emphasized in the service menus of new TVs: pre-set linear TV programs are just one option among multiple sources of content. We are now able to choose among hard drives, pre-selected Internet services, such as YouTube, catch up services, such as BBC iPlayer and Yle Areena, and open Internet. In addition, content can be fetched from about any digital device, such as cameras and mobiles. Since we have not more than 24 hours a day, all of these new ways of consuming media are likely to push linear TV into decline. In consequence, frequency allocation for terrestrial  TV (1) should and could be reduced.

Luckily enough, we are able to find efficient solutions where one party is made better-off without harming any other party. Dna’s award-winning  high-capacity DVB-T2 network in Finland proves that the current or even extended amount of TV services can be delivered with clearly lower amount of frequencies than earlier [1]. Dna has fitted three multiplexes into a 56 MHz slot while traditional solutions require two or three times as much. The key building blocks of the Dna’s network are state-of-the-art technology and efficient radio planning based on single-frequency approach with relatively low-power transmitters. Mobile equipment vendor Ericsson provides further evidence to support this view. Ericsson’s study on delivering TV content via LTE networks concluded that frequency allocation for terrestrial TV can be cut from 300 MHz to 84 MHz without any need for reductions in TV content [2]. In short, these examples carry a promise to solve the dispute over sub-1 GHz frequencies between mobile and TV network operators.

In summary, further cuts in TV frequencies can be made without causing any harm to TV companies or TV audiences. In ITU Region 1 the strongest candidate to form the second digital dividend is the 700 MHz band that forms the current digital dividend in Region 2. This would enable contiguous assignments of 2 x 20 MHz and thus full utilisation of LTE technologies: maximum capacity combined with efficient network deployment. In addition, this would strongly contribute to the international spectrum harmonisation. Given that any material changes in the frequency allocation can only take place after lengthy international negotiations, it is time for regulators, operators and other stakeholders to get a grip on the issue.

[1] Dna with its Single frequency networks for HD with DVB-T2 won an innovation award in Content delivery category at the IBC 2011 conference in Amsterdam in September 2011. More information here DNA's press release Dna’s network is being planned by Omnitele.

[2] Jörg Huschke & Joachim Sachs & Kumar Balachandran & Jörgen Karlsson. Spectrum Requirements for TV Broadcast Services using Cellular Transmitters. 2011 IEEE International Symposium on Dynamic Spectrum Access Networks (DySPAN).

(1) Linear TV is provided by cable and satellite networks as well but only terrestrial TV excludes other uses in the most sought-after sub-1 GHz band.