October 2018

Will Universal Mobile Broadband Further Obfuscate the Destiny of DSO?

 October 2018


Transition from analogue to digital TV broadcasting, or Digital Switchover (DSO), can be a potential solution to free up essential radio spectrum bands for mobile broadband development. The 700/800 MHz in 470-862 MHz which is the spectrum freed up through the digital switchover and also known as the “digital dividend,” gives governments a special opportunity to boost their economies and expand mobile broadband coverage in rural areas.

This transition from analogue to digital TV broadcasting is taking place across all regions of the world. Recognising the benefits of digital switchover and aiming to secure the frequencies assigned for digital TV broadcasting, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recommended the completion of DSO by June 17, 2015. However, more than 70% of the world (about 150 countries) have not completed or even yet started the digital switchover.

In this digest, we explore some of the potential sources for the lack of progress for wider DSO implementation.


DTT ecosystem

The figure below represents the key elements within the Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) ecosystem and support infrastructure highlighting various technical components that should be considered in analysing the prospects for DSO. At a high-level these comprise:

 Digital video broadcasting technologies & standards

End-to-end digital broadcasting planning, implementation & operation

Frequency & infrastructure planning

Source: CASiTEL

Spectrum left for DTT

The two bands which were identified in WRC-07 were the “700 MHz band” for use in the Americas (Region 2) and the “800 MHz Band” for use in Europe, while Region 3 was left free to choose which band it wanted to use (See March 2018 digest). Following that, the 694-790MHz block was identified in WRC-12 for Region 1, essentially leaving DTT band plans to span across 470- 694MHz.

In practice though there has been a lot of discussion and actions that may make more spectrum available for mobile broadband before WRC-23 and to more than the countries that are signed up to IMT/mobile broadband in the ITU/WRC. As an example, a study by GSMA suggested that in Arab markets terrestrial TV might only need UHF spectrum from 470 – 582MHz.


DSO implementation programme is complex

DSO is a complex programme involving many stakeholders and which should ensure undisrupted access to television services for news, education and entertainment with its implementation requiring significant effort across government, regulator and industry.


Source: CASiTEL

DTT Competition

The historical impetus for DSO was the need to open up swaths of the radio spectrum utilised for low value uses, e.g. free to air analogue TV, and repurpose it, for higher value uses such as mobile broadband communications.

Market dynamics and technological changes worked in favour of that trend, especially in higher income countries which needed urgently more spectrum for commercially viable 4G mobile communication services. This trend was reinforced by the growth on subscribership of multichannel paid TV services, delivered not only through cable, but increasingly, via DBS and direct to home (DTH) satellite technology. At the time, few foresaw the forces we see today reshaping the competitive landscape for the delivery of paid multichannel TV and OTT video streaming services.


How can Universal Mobile Broadband be enabled?

Radio sweet spot for mobile application has long been identified as the UHF part of the radio spectrum, most notably its sub-1GHz portion. More recently, under the 5G banner, 3.5GHz, 5GHz, 28GHz and higher bands seem to have been replacing it to the extent that even misleading claims are made with respect to their radio propagation characteristics in the 5G marketing materials. For sure, the aforementioned bands will make the ITU-R/3GPP IMT-2020 specified target speeds achievable, however, these bands are unlikely to make the nominees list for providing universal mobile broadband at an economically acceptable level.

The viability of providing universal speeds that enable delivering linear and on-demand video contents would depend on the availability of large bandwidth in the sub-1GHz.


What future holds for DSO?

DSO implementation is not a straight forward matter and attempting to dissect its fate would culminate in some controversial pros and cons. However, for “Universal Mobile Broadband” to offer speeds that enable delivering high quality video streaming (linear or on demand) large bandwidth in the sub-1GHz would be required.

Furthermore, more options have become available for the delivery of paid multichannel TV. While this has not diminished the need to clear parts of the radio spectrum assigned to analogue TV, it might have diminished the appeal for DTT service. Said in a different way, while the need for the ASO is still present, the appeal for DSO is perhaps diminishing.

We should also look back and remind ourselves of the ”2G, 3G, and 4G” deployment/migration conundrum in the last decade; are we not witnessing the same  for “ASO, DSO, and DD”? What can be concluded is that DSO will be implemented but not in all of the remaining 150 countries due to a variety of reasons.

It is, therefore, imperative that some sample countries are selected with diversity and variety across the domains touched on in this digest and other driving factors to appraise the issues and develop appropriate frameworks.

Source: CASiTEL