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Freeview’s European friends unite against 4G mobile broadband invasion

Freeview-style broadcasters across Europe have backed calls for mobile broadband to be kept out of TV’s radio frequencies until 2030.

The European Commission has proposed putting the brakes on mobile broadband’s march so broadcasters and viewers aren’t forced into expensive aerial and transmitter changes.

The European Broadcasting Union, which represents state broadcasters like the BBC across Europe, said governments also need to decide who will pay for changes they’ve already agreed.

Once upon a time, TV was simple and local
Once upon a time, TV was simple and local

Simon Fell, head of technology and innovation at the EBU, said: “The EBU believes safeguarding spectrum below 700MHz will enable public service broadcasters and the European audiovisual sector to continue reaching all sectors of the population, sustain broader content choice, and secure investments and innovation over the long term.”

Governments from around the world will meet next year to decide how they will divide the airwaves between different uses such as TV, mobile, radar, emergency services, ships and aeroplanes, and radio astronomy.

There’s already heavy lobbying from mobile operators to switch radio frequencies – known as spectrum – from TV to broadband.

European governments including the UK have already agreed to hand over a slice of TV frequencies – known as spectrum – from 700-800MHz to mobile broadband by 2020.

Mobile operators also want to be able to share frequencies as low as 470MHz with TV, although no-one knows how this “co-primary allocation” would work.

Broadcasters like the BBC and ITV are concerned that they’ll have to spend billions of pounds changing their Freeview transmitters, while viewers would be forced to change their TV aerials and TVs – and no-one knows who’s going to pay for it all.

Fell, the former head of technology at ITV, added: “It is essential that broadcasters are not financially weakened by any loss of the 700MHz band.

“There is a danger that this will not give broadcasters and viewers enough time to adapt to appropriate spectrum arrangements and ensure the necessary upgrade of DTT networks and consumer equipment, especially in countries where DTT is the main TV platform.”

Millions of UK Freeview viewers had to retune their TVs last year when mobile broadband operators were handed radio frequencies near 800MHz.

TV LIcence fee-payers paid for the Freeview transmission network to be altered, and mobile phone operators set aside £180m to help with potential interference, although problems were ultimately much less severe than feared.

Former EU commissioner Pascal Lamy’s report into changing the use of UHF spectrum from TV to mobile suggests halting changes after the 700MHz switchover around 2020.

He said the EU should ban any further switchovers until 2030, and hold a review in 20125 to see how both technology and consumer behaviour has changed.

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 – or WRC-15 – will be held in May next year and is the result of years of national and international planning.

Ofcom will represent the UK government and is running its own consultation on WRC-15 until September 19, 2014.

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