New interference fears on Commission digital dividend roadmap

October 29, 2009

European Commission proposals to harmonise the 790-862 MHz sub band have been met with fresh concerns over the possibility that new mobile services might have on existing consumer services.

Estimates by Booz and Company suggest 115 million television viewers could be negatively affected while affected broadband internet users are estimated to be in the millions.

The plans to harness the digital dividend on a European-wide basis, backed by Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, have the potential to boost the economy by between €20 and €50 billion. They were originally proposed in a speech given by Reding in July this year and designed to accelerate the transition to digital only broadcasts by January 2012.

While bringing down the cost of mobile broadband and delivering it to rural communities is at the heart of the roadmap, the Commission is also hoping that a more efficient use of spectrum will allow in new high definition TV services.

Reding said that Europe could only make the most of the digital dividend if there was co-operation between the European Parliament and EU countries. “I urge national authorities to use the digital dividend in a pro-competitive way to open up the market for new operators and new services, maximising the impact on the economy. Only this will ensure the digital dividend is used to bring wireless broadband to parts of the EU where high-speed internet cannot be provided efficiently by other technologies.”

The plan calls for the harmonisation of the 790-862 MHz sub band, countries choosing to do so being required to do so in a consistent way without fragmenting the single market, and effectively issuing a warning to countries considering going it alone with diverse uses. The economic use of spectrum is also being given priority, a minimum level of spectrum efficiency is under consideration as is the use of “white spaces”, the unused spectrum between two TV coverage zones.

However laboratory tests carried out on behalf of trade body Cable Europe suggest the potential for interference from mobile LTE signals when used near a set-top box or cable modem. The interference is sufficient to knock out TV signals, though Cable Europe believes the problem to be avoidable. Cable Europe Labs Managing Director, Malcolm Taylor says the problem is not limited to cable or its networks and requires further inspection at Member State level. “The combination of both the real cost and opportunity cost of this interference makes a clear case for full impact analyses before any further decisions are made by national governments.”

The Commission is now turning to the European Parliament to adopt its roadmap and debate the issue in the first half of 2010.