EU publishes switchover plans

Rose Major

As promised last week by Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for the Information Society and Media, the European Union has launched a consultation on how to “better work together at EU level to get the most from this unique opportunity” of digital switchover. That could involve ensuring interoperability in equipment between countries – perhaps even mandating MPEG4.

In its consultation document, the EU asserts: “The study on the digital dividend concludes that the benefits for Europe to increase the minimum standards for digital compression capacity on the terrestrial broadcasting platform would outweigh the costs by €4 billion to €10 billion.”

Mandating MPEG4 would “generate a critical mass of high quality TV equipment in Europe, in advance of the deployment of the relatred network infrastructure that will make full use of this increased transmission capacity.” With renewal times for set-tops and TV sets of 5-8 years, a coordinated move would alleviate the “chicken and egg” issue when countries move from the first generation of digital broadcasting networks to a more advanced one.

The EU study is also proposing opening up the 800 MHz band (790-862 MHz) to wireless broadband services. “EU harmonisation would allow greater economies of scale and ensure that there is no fragmentation between Member States regarding the technical conditions of use,” say the proposals.

“Member States would be requested to implement the measure as soon as possible but no final implementation date would be specified in the technical harmonisation measure; instead, the measure would ensure that any Member State developing its spectrum planning beyond the current broadcasting use would do so in accordance with the technical parameters of the Decision. In the long transitional period to be anticipated, it would also provide technical parameters for co-ordination between Member States that continue with high-power broadcasting in the band and those that move to medium to low-power electronic communications usage,” says the document.

Also proposed are adopting a “common position” on the potential use of white spaces (spectrum unused between broadcasting coverge areas); promoting collaboration between Member states to share future broadcasting network deployment plans; and establishing a mechanism to monitor external developments , for example the extent of consumer HD take-up or new standards and technologies.