GSMA tells Arab States to allocate UHF for mobile


Spare UHF spectrum can be used for mobile and broadcast TV services, new report states

Arab States are being told that a significant amount of the UHF band being used in the region for terrestrial digital television could also be used for mobile broadband.

The GSMA has published a new report finding that terrestrial digital TV broadcasting in the Arab States does not need an exclusive allocation of the UHF spectrum band (470 to 694MHz).

In its report, ‘Terrestrial Broadcasting and Spectrum Use in the Arab States’ developed by Plum Consulting, the GSMA found that demand for broadcasting capacity in the region has been overestimated in previous policy decisions. Viewership of terrestrial television in many Arab countries is low, with consumers choosing to watch television over satellite, cable and, increasingly, IPTV.

On how demand has been overestimated previously, Tim Miller, Plum Consulting partner and specialist in the regulation of telecommunications networks and spectrum issues, commented: “Previous decisions assumed greater growth in TV channels and usage; other technologies are coming in now (particularly IPTV, but also free satellite,) which go against plans set many years ago. This is not only the situation in the Middle East; it has been seen in other countries worldwide. Further, not only is there perhaps a lower demand for terrestrial TV capacity but also the technologies used to provide DTV are constantly becoming more spectrally efficient.”

According to the study, all UHF spectrum above 582MHz may potentially be released for other services, including mobile broadband, while still supporting all current and projected terrestrial TV requirements in the region.

The report says if UHF band could also be used for mobile broadband, it could unlock significant socio-economic benefits throughout the region. Speaking to Smart Chimps on why this issue is so important, Miller said that as the vast majority of UHF band is allocated to TV both in terms of international agreements (within the ITU,) and also across regional governments, nobody can run a mobile network in the UHF spectrum without risk of interference. Miller said the study finds that the amount of television being broadcast in the Arab States can easily be carried on only part of the UHF spectrum, which means that part of it can be used for something else.

“To an extent this has been recognised by governments and regulators, with a move to releasing the upper portion of the UHF spectrum (known as Band V),” he said. “However, we believe that part of Band IV could also be released without impacting on television services.”

Miller added: “Even where some countries are broadcasting enough channels to require significant amounts of the UHF spectrum (say, the majority of Band IV), we must be careful to ensure that this doesn’t prevent other countries, who have lower demands for terrestrial broadcasting, from using this spectrum for other services.  If the entire band was reserved for terrestrial broadcasting only, this would lead to some countries and regions where this valuable spectrum remained unused.  Therefore, the GSMA is arguing that the lower part of the UHF band should be made co-primary at WRC-15, and this will provide flexibility in the future depending on how the markets develop and the continuing need for spectrum for terrestrial digital TV.”

The report calls on the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG) countries to agree on a co-primary allocation for broadcast and mobile in the UHF spectrum band at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) in November 2015.

Miller said the ASMG have already looked at replanning spectrum for DTV by reducing the number of multiplexes per country significantly below the numbers used at the RRC 2006 planning conference; the aim of this was to release spectrum for mobile.  He noted: “However, we believe that the replanning exercise does not go far enough and our report is identifying there might be an opportunity to use fewer multiplexes in order to transmit the current level of TV service; this would therefore release more spectrum across the region.”

John Giusti, deputy chief regulatory officer, GSMA, added: “Spectrum is a scarce resource and regulatory authorities in the Arab States are looking to maximise flexibility so that their networks are ready to meet consumers’ growing demand for mobile data. Adding a mobile allocation would allow countries to make the best and most valuable use of this spectrum to meet the needs of their citizens, especially for underserved communities, while still supporting over-the-air television in the band.”

A joint position among the ASMG member states in favour of a co-primary allocation in the UHF spectrum for broadcast and mobile at WRC-15 would foster the option to roll out low cost mobile broadband services in the future, especially in underserved areas, said the GSMA. Yet the organisation warned that if action is not taken now, it will make it more difficult for regulators to release additional spectrum from the UHF band for mobile until as late as 2030 or beyond.

According to Cisco, the Middle East and Africa will experience the strongest mobile data traffic growth of any region between 2014 and 20191, but in some Arab States mobile broadband growth is restricted by a lack of available spectrum [Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2014–2019].

The GSMA is also calling on the European Commission (EC) to allow EU member states to utilise UHF band frequencies for both mobile broadband and broadcast functions. Such a move would enable individual member states to use UHF spectrum for mobile broadband and broadcast functions, and to react to growing demand for mobile internet access by allocating additional spectrum to the networks as required.


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