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Europe’s golden opportunity to capitalise on digital dividend

The UMTS Forum has urged European member states to unite in their support for a common band plan to re-use ‘digital dividend’ frequencies in the UHF band for mobile broadband services. Growing momentum for spectrum harmonisation by Member States, says the Forum, will benefit mobile subscribers and industry alike.

Mobile industry association The UMTS Forum has urged European member states to unite in their support for a common band plan to re-use ‘digital dividend’ frequencies for mobile broadband services.

“We regret that Europe will not be able to entirely benefit from the Digital Dividend due to a limited allocation”, said UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaimé at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “However we welcome on-going co-operation between countries that will avoid market fragmentation and help drive down the price of end-user devices.

“We applaud countries from ITU Region 2 and 3 for recognising the importance of mobile communication and allocating a significant portion of the Digital Dividend to mobile”, continued Bienaimé. “On the other hand, in the UMTS Forum we urge countries to avoid market fragmentation and to make all efforts so that the emergence of a globally harmonised frequency band in the digital dividend can be achieved.”

“With regards to the European situation, prompt harmonisation across Europe of UHF spectrum for IMT-2000 mobile broadband services will enormously benefit our industry while ensuring the most cost-efficient use of this valuable spectrum. We’ve already seen how harmonisation pays dividends for mobile operators through operational efficiencies and economies of scale”, stated Bienaimé. “This will translate into lower network costs, simplified roaming, cheaper devices and ultimately lower tariffs for consumers.”

The Digital Dividend represents radio spectrum that will be released by the switch from analogue TV broadcasting to more spectrally-efficient digital transmission. Already underway in some European regions, this changeover will liberate a significant dividend in frequencies in the UHF band. This spectrum can be used for non-broadcast applications, notably using UMTS/HSPA mobile broadband networks and their evolution to LTE.

The Digital Dividend raises a unique opportunity to offer ubiquitous mobile broadband connections. However, this promise can only be entirely fulfilled through:

- Allocation of a significant part of the Digital Dividend to mobile;
- Harmonisation of Digital Dividend plans across the world.

The UMTS Forum has previously welcomed the allocation of UHF frequencies for IMT-2000 by the ITU at the last World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07). As a contribution to WRC-07, previous UMTS Forum studies have confirmed the technical feasibility of using these frequencies for IMT-2000 high-speed mobile broadband networks.

Today, the mobile industry has signalled the importance of harmonisation by its de facto selection of the 3GPP/UMTS family of standards as the single worldwide evolutionary path for future networks.

Towards a harmonised Digital Dividend in Europe
With transition towards digital TV expected to be completed by 2012, the European Commission has urged Member States to agree on a co-ordinated approach to use of the digital dividend.

Following on from the WRC-07 decision, Member States of the European Union are already signalling their common alignment on allocation of frequencies at 790-862 MHz.

In France, 72 MHz of digital dividend spectrum in the 790-862 MHz UHF band has been earmarked for mobile services as part of the Government’s “France numérique 2012” plan, unveiled last Autumn and confirmed late December by the recent official Digital Dividend allocation scheme. Other EU and CEPT member states (Sweden, Finland, Switzerland) have aligned on the same band to support expansion of affordable access to broadband communication services.

In another positive step towards pan-European harmonisation, UK regulator Ofcom has recently announced proposals to make 790MHz to 862MHz available for mobile broadband. It is anticipated that Ofcom will hold its auction for the UK's digital dividend spectrum during 2010.

As discussions continue throughout 2009, it is expected that other European member states – including Germany – will soon clarify their own position. With the Digital Dividend representing a priority for Europe, EC is now conducting a study to:

a) Assess the costs and benefits of a harmonised approach at the European level;
b) Determine potential roadmaps towards a coherent framework for Europe;
c) Facilitate the political debate.

Work is also ongoing within CEPT, following the second EC mandate on the Digital Dividend. CEPT will shortly consider two decisions on respectively:

a) Common band plan/band plan options
b) Least restrictive condition of access to the band.

“The band 790-862 MHz offers many attractions to mobile operators”, noted Bienaimé. “Its propagation characteristics make it an ideal choice for offering wide-area mobile coverage with good indoor penetration. As European administrations accelerate their switchover plans, now’s the time to give operators across the region fair access to these frequencies to augment their existing spectrum allocations.