The 700 MHz band: international stakes
François Hollande, the President of the French Republic announced that the authorisations for the use of the 700 MHz band by mobile operators would be granted in 2015. This new possibility of spectrum use was made possible thanks to the international negotiations that began in 2012 and in which the Agency played a main role. This work will continue over the coming months so that the mobile operators and then the consumers will benefit from European standardisation. They will therefore make it possible to sign the border control agreements with our European partners that are needed to move the television channels outside the 700 MHz band.
International level actions
Even though the 700 MHz band was not explicitly on the order of the day at the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) of 2012,
late requestsfrom the regional organisations of African and Arab countries have lead to adding the possibility of using this band for mobile services for high speed networks. The application of this assignment has been postponed to the end of the WRC-15 at the end of November 2015. The technical operating conditions for this new service in this band will be indicated at that time. This compromise between the will of some countries to give mobile operators quick access to the 700 MHz band, and the will of many others to draw up common technical rules will soon make it possible to achieve global harmonisation in the use of this band. It has also allowed the European countries using this band for audiovisual broadcasting, of which France is a part, to have an extra deadline essential to study the resulting evolutions.
In France in 2013, the Government had announced that it wanted to reassign this band to the mobile services. Since then, the Agency, in close collaboration with the CSA and the ARCEP, undertook to invest in the international WRC-15 preparation works: within the CEPT (European postal administration and telecommunications conference) and the ITU-R (International Radiocommunications Union).
The success of this approach, in cooperation with the African, Arab and European countries favourable to this reassignment, made it possible to draw up a European and national framework for the use of this band. The technical conditions for the use of the mobile service in the 700 MHz band will be stabilised before WRC-15.
The steps in the European harmonisation of the 700 MHz band
European harmonisation aims to implement an ecosystem that is favourable to the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services, with mobile terminals capable of using the band and itinerancy over the entire European territory. This harmonisation should also protect the mobile networks high power television programmes broadcast from neighbouring countries.
Up till now, at the European level, the debate basically concerns:
The organisation of the 700 MHz band: the Agency defended the harmonisation of part of the band (2x30 MHz) with the frequency plan already implemented in many terminals marketed in Asia and other regions of the world;
- The protection of television broadcasts in the 470-694 MHz band, in particular regarding mobile terminals. The Agency studies had led to the proposal of a balanced limit for mobile emissions, taking into consideration the need to protect television and the terminal design constraints. This option was chosen by Europe, enshrined in the LTE standards and will be used in a ITU-R recommendation, thereby guaranteeing global terminal harmonisation. Without waiting for WRC-15, this work has made it possible to draw up a draft European decision within the CEPT defining the conditions for use of the harmonised part (2x30 MHz) by mobile systems .
The European Commission has mandated the CEPT to study the 700 MHz band. Considering the results communicated, it wishes to use these technical conditions in 2015 in a community decision in order to make them compulsory for all European Union countries.
In these conditions, several countries have already announced that they want to open the 700 MHz band to high speed mobile: Germany, Finland, Sweden or Switzerland. Other countries are considering it, but others believe they will need more time to move all their television programmes below 694 MHz.
Nevertheless, a wide diversity of 700 MHz band assignment dates to mobiles in Europe would have unfavourable consequences because it would lead to interferences between television and mobile networks in border areas. This would also reduce the benefits of a European 700 MHz mobile high speed ecosystem. The Member states and the European Commission, aware of these stakes, are therefore considering making the opening of the band to high speed mobile compulsory, using a calendar that is currently under discussion by the RSPG (Radio Spectrum Policy Group), an advisory group including the European spectrum managers. A draft opinion, which will be the subject of public consultation starting from December, recommends that Member states free up the band before a date that could be either 2020 or 2022.
This opinion seems compatible with the proposals of Pascal Lamy in his report to the European Commission published on 1st September 2014 on the future use of the UHF band. It notably supports the reassignment of the 700 MHz frequency band on a date around 2020 (+/- 2 years) accompanied by legal guarantees to make sure the rest of the UHF band (470-694 MHz) remains available for the needs of television until 2030 for all States that require it.
Based on these proposals, the Commission should, as part of the preparation of a new pluriannual plan on radio spectrum policy preparation (RSPP) in 2016, negotiate a limit date for the transfer of the high speed mobile network in the European Union with the Council and Parliament.
France wishes to keep an option that leaves space for high speed security network communications (“PPDR”), because the band seems specially suitable for personal portable devices. Several possibilities are under study, of which some could be combined with the use of additional frequency blocks to provide downwards capacity to commercial networks (SDL technology, “supplemental downward link”). The other options under study at the European level are wireless microphones that currently use blank television space in the 470-790 MHz band and the commercial networks for M2M applications.
In France, the perspective of the assignment of the band to mobile operators starting from 2015 brought the Agency, supported by the countries with the same ambitions such as Germany, to launch thought processes aiming to revise the border agreements with neighbouring countries in order to be able to transfer television below 694 MHz in the calenders being considered.
When the 800 MHz band was reassigned, these negotiations took over three years. If the geography of our borders with Italy and Spain make coordination easier, the situation is much more complicated in northern France considering the number of countries involved (Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom) and a more unfavourable topography encouraging long distance radio routes.
The informal WEDDIP group (Western Europe Digital Dividend Implementation Group) that gathers together these countries now has a key role in preparing the scenarios for the fast migration of television out of the 700 MHz band. An inventory has been made: all the WEDDIP administrations, except for Switzerland, now want to sign most of the required agreements by 2016.
The next step will be to propose concrete solutions to our neighbours based on the national frequency plan drawn up by the CSA. Transitory plans will probably also be implemented to take into account the calender to free up the 700 MHz band which will remain specific to each of our neighbours.
To find out more: an assessment of the switch to HD DTT