Old TV Spectrum Creates World of Wireless

The shift to digital TV will free up spectrum in the UHF band, which operators can use for broadcast to mobile phones, wireless broadband, and other services

By Tim Ferguson

Mobile and other operators will be able to take advantage of radio spectrum freed up when the shift to digital television takes place between 2008 and 2012, according to Ofcom.

The so-called 'digital dividend' - as the UK regulator puts it - will be the largest release of spectrum for some time and will be in the form of the much sought-after UHF band. This follows recent Ofcom proposals regarding the auction of spectrum in 2007 which have received a mixed response.

This band can cover large geographical areas with fewer base stations, meaning it is cheap to use and well-suited to national network coverage.

Possible uses for the digital dividend could include additional terrestrial television services such as local digital television or new national channels.

Mobile operators could also take advantage by using the spectrum to broadcast television and video to mobile phones, according to experts. Wireless broadband technologies such as WiMax could also use the spectrum.

Further beneficiaries may be emergency services, which could boost their wireless comms capabilities. Lower power wireless apps such as home wi-fi and wireless microphones for use in television or radio production could also receive a boost.

Ofcom figures show businesses dependent on radio spectrum in the UK create £37bn annually - around three per cent of the country's GDP. Over the next 20 years, Ofcom predicts the extra spectrum could add £5bn to £10bn to this.

Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, said the aim is to ensure many types of user have the opportunity to innovate.

Ofcom is consulting about reserving some of this spectrum for future innovations (such as new low-power wireless applications).

As part of the UK's switchover to digital television Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell yesterday said the government will fund a £600m scheme to help older and disabled people make the switch more easily.

The switchover will start in 2008 with staged rollouts in individual ITV regions and is intended for completion by 2012.

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