Terrestrial digital television broadcasting in the Arab States does not need an exclusive allocation of the UHF spectrum band (470-694MHz), according to a report by the GSMA, the global trade association for mobile operators.
The report, “Terrestrial Broadcasting and Spectrum Use in the Arab States”, developed by Plum Consulting, argues that a significant amount of the UHF band could also be used for mobile broadband, unlocking significant socio-economic benefits throughout the region.
The report calls on 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.
“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,” said John Giusti, deputy chief regulatory officer at the GSMA. “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.
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, an unnecessary and avoidable outcome. 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.
The report finds 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. 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.
Current plans to modify the Geneva 2006 (GE06) Digital Plan in the region require each market with sufficient spectrum to support four digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplexes, which would allow for approximately 32 TV channels in each country. However, the number of existing analogue television channels varies from one in Djibouti and Jordan, to 18 in Sudan. The study indicates that the number of multiplexes needed to carry the existing number of television channels varies between one and four, and it is likely that three multiplexes would be able to accommodate all countries, with two multiplexes sufficient to accommodate at least 13 of the 18 countries in the region, supporting the release of spectrum from broadcasting.
“Efficient placement of terrestrial broadcasting in the UHF band would free spectrum across the Arab States even if all existing TV channels continue to be broadcast over digital terrestrial television. This would not only allow television broadcasting more than a sufficient allocation of the spectrum resource, but would also free up spectrum to allow mobile broadband to grow and thrive, delivering its well-documented benefits to people, businesses and governments throughout the region,” Giusti said.
The 20th ASMG regional preparatory meeting for WRC-15 will take place in Rabat, Morocco, 22-27 August 2015.