Former WTO boss to lead EU study of how to use TV broadcast spectrum

The EU could make better use of spectrum in the UHF band, said a European Commissioner

The former Director General of the World Trade Organization is to head up a new group looking at the future use of TV broadcast spectrum across the European Union.

The European Commission has given the advisory group, led by Pascal Lamy, six months to make proposals on the most effective future uses for spectrum in the UHF band, 470 MHz to 790 MHz, used mainly for TV broadcasting today.

The 20-member group includes public service broadcasters such as the UK's BBC and Germany's ARD; broadcast network operators such as TDF in France; mobile phone operators including Vodafone, Orange, Teliasonera, and KPN, and industry associations such as the GSMA, Digital Europe, the Association of Professional Wireless Production Technologies and the European Broadcasting Union.

Lamy said he expected the discussions to be quite challenging. "Nobody will get everything they want, but I am confident that, based on an open discussion and a willingness to engage at the strategic level, we can deliver a coherent vision for Europe," he said. He added that his mandate was not to regulate, but to prepare advice for the Commission which will then look at proposing specific laws, including possibilities for sharing parts of the band.

TV broadcasts don't occupy all parts of the UHF spectrum in all areas: Frequencies are often not reused in adjacent regions so as to avoid interference from neighboring transmitters. The channels thus left unused in an area are termed white space.

In the U.K., spectrum regulator Ofcom has been studying the opportunity for dynamic access to white space spectrum for some time. Its plans for UHF TV white space spectrum are already well advanced and it is considering applying similar principles to other frequency ranges in the future.

The European Commission's Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that there was no question of asking advanced member states like the U.K. to slow down their efforts. "On the contrary, they are inspiring us to speed up. Current spectrum assignments won't support consumer habits of the future, based on huge amounts of audiovisual consumption through broadband and IPTV," she said.

According to the Commission, some E.U. countries are considering allocating part of their 700 MHz frequencies for wireless broadband, which would affect and be affected by terrestrial broadcasters in neighboring countries, therefore a coherent view of how Europe is going to develop the terrestrial platforms used by both services is needed.

A final report from the advisory group will be delivered by July 2014.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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