International Telecommunications Union (ITU) made it clear: The deadline was not postponed for the digital switchover, even if some countries did not meet it. By 17th June 2015, Europe, Middle East and Africa (Region 1) were supposed to meet the deadline set by the ITU for television stations in the region 1 to migrate from analogue broadcasting to digital terrestrial television (DTT), to allocate the digital dividend to the mobile service for the 700 MHz.
“The switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting will create new distribution networks and expand the potential for wireless innovation and services,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General.“New efficiencies in spectrum usage will allow more television channels to be carried across the airwaves and lead to greater convergence of services.”
When regulators align their mobile-sector spectrum with international band plans, mobile devices can be built less expensively because a single device model can be manufactured for many countries, driving prices down due to the economies of scale, as the GSMA explains. This brings more products and services to more people, while allowing people to use their mobile phones cheaply and easily when travelling abroad. Moreover, interference along national borders is reduced when mobile bands are harmonised between countries, the organisation adds.
For Peter Lyons, director of Middle East and North Africa at GSMA and member of the spectrum policy team at this organisation, spectrum seems the centre of the challenges for operators. He believes that deciding where to allocate spectrum in the future will determine the future of the telecoms sector for customers and operators.
The disparity in the penetration rate in the Middle East and Africa region is also linked to spectrum, as Lyons explains. Affordability when buying a smartphone and subscribing to a service is the main driver to improve the telecom market and develop the networks.
The GSMA has stated in different occasions that not all countries did not follow established harmonised technical rules on the allocation of 790–862MHz band. As countries are not following the recommendations, they did not meet the deadline imposed by the ITU.
“All countries in the ME were trying their best to make more and more spectrum available to the operators,” said Tariq Al-Awadhi, executive director Spectrum Affairs at Spectrum Affairs Department at UAE TRA.
Lyons believe that the GCC worked towards the deadline and set the UAE as the example, all broadcaster made the shift by December 2014. “In Central Africa, for example, they are not doing anything for obvious reasons, because of their civil war, so this issue is deprioritise,” he added.
Some countries are not financially ready for this change, Lyons explains that many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have several analogue broadcasters, in many cases related to local and political interests, with no resources to adequate the transition to digital. “On top of that, many of the customers have analogue televisions that will cannot be updated and will not receive the digital signal,” he added.
More spectrum requested
During the Arab Spectrum Management Group (ASMG), the GSMA talk bilaterally to at least half a dozen regulators to say that the mobile data traffic patent growth that we are seeing on the operators networks is far above anything that has been discussed.
“It is important for governments to realise that without a future spectrum agenda, operators will have very limited visibility and very limited incentive for making the kind of investment needed to face this future mobile data growth. The policy makers and regulators fundamentally underestimate how people are using mobile data in this region,”said Lyons.
The problem with future spectrum is that now that spectrum is allocated for other use, for instance satellite, or television broadcast, such as terrestrial broadcast, he explained.
Lyons added that spectrum issue is not a technical issue. “If there is a technical issue, it is very easy to solve. It is a political issue.”
If future spectrum is not agreed in November during the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), it will not be agreed until 2023, he warned.
Agreement to harmonise spectrum
On 16 June 2006, at the conclusion of the Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06) in Geneva, a regional agreement was signed by ITU Member States of Region 1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran for planning of the digital terrestrial broadcasting service, in the frequency bands 174-230 MHz and 470-862 MHz, heralding the development of all-digital terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television.
The Regional Agreement, Geneva 2006 (GE06) for digital broadcasting services in the frequency bands 174 - 230 MHz and 470 - 862 MHz, marked the beginning of the end of analogue broadcasting, according to the ITU.
As part of the decisions taken by the ITU World Radiocommunication Conferences in 2007 and 2012, the upper parts of the UHF band (800 MHz and 700 MHz) were allocated to the mobile service and identified for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT).
“The WRC 2012 did make the allocation of 700MHz band for Mobile but the effective date is after the WRC 2015 which is scheduled in November 2015. However, we are participating in the ITU meetings to make sure the harmonisation of the band in Region 1. In the same time, some countries – like UAE – vacated this band from Digital Broadcasting service for Mobile services,” Tariq Al-Awadhi, executive director Spectrum Affairs at Spectrum Affairs Department at UAE TRA said to CommsMEA.
As the demand for data continues to grow, it is important to explore new potential spectrum bands for telecom services, as the industry recommends.
ITU: In 2015 govts will agree to more spectrum
Houlin Zhao was elected secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for information and communication technologies (ICTs) during the ITU’s 19th Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan (PPC-14), Republic of Korea.
Zhao believes that the Middle East and Africa region is aware of mobile data growth.
“My personal observation is that, in 2015, everyone will be in favour of giving more spectrum to mobile. But all those spectrum requested by GSMA [Sub-700MHz UHF, L-Band, 2.7-2.9 GHz and C-Band] will need to be checked. We have to see during the next ten months if they have enough arguments to convince and see if it is possible,” he commented during the interview.
The telecommunications industry is not the only one lobbing to more spectrum, as the broadcasting and satellites sector also wants to be considered, highlighted Zhao.
He considers that the spectrum used for public interest does not need to be shared with operators in the region.
“The mobile industry has a lot of support from everywhere, because they offer services to all the consumers. If it [spectrum] is free, if it is empty, that is not a question, we can have more flexibility to assign it. If it [spectrum] is already used by somebody, we should not kill it, we cannot kill it, if they still exist and if it is active, there must be some reasons and some supporters and sometimes they cannot be easily eliminated, we cannot support that,” he said to CommsMEA.