Digital switch offers boost to European coffers

Digital switch offers boost to European coffers

Using wireless spectrum for broadband could lead to savings of over £14bn

Europe could see economic benefits of more than €20bn (£14bn) if the wireless spectrum made available by switching to digital broadcast services is used for mobile internet access, according to research.

In the UK, the switchover from analogue to digital-only television started in Whitehaven in Cumbria last week. Debates are now raging over potential uses of the freed-up bandwidth when it starts to be auctioned off by communications regulator Ofcom next year.

Reuse of as little as a quarter of the spectrum could provide cheap and effective internet access and lead to major savings across the continent, according to consultant Spectrum Value Partners.

The research, to be discussed at the United Nations’ World Radiocommunications Conference this week, is backed by major telecoms companies including Ericsson, Nokia, and Vodafone.

Broadcasters want to keep the spectrum for delivery of next-generation TV. But the telcos claim that the liberated 112Mhz band is ideal for long-distance transmission across rural regions, and for urban areas where the low frequency waves can pass through walls.

“We recognise that broadcasters need spectrum for high-definition services, but mobile is used by a lot more people,” said a Vodafone spokesman.

“If Europe doesn’t want to fall behind the rest of the world, it needs to adopt a positive stance.”

The industry aims to use this week’s high-level conference to build momentum behind the establishment of a European-wide precedent.

A firm decision will benefit everyone, according to Spectrum Value Partners senior associate Mike Papadimitriou.

“The sooner the uncertainty about how the bandwidth is going to be used is removed, the sooner the both parties can plan,” he said.

“The issue is about getting consensus around standardisation and the usage of spectrum.”

If policymakers defer taking a strong stance this year, the debate will remain unresolved until the next conference in 2011, said Papadimitriou.