Serbian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Society has driven an initiative to develop a unified approach to the allocation of ‘digital dividend’ spectrum – the spectrum that will be freed up by the switchover from analogue to digital TV – in South East Europe.

The Ministry hosted a Ministerial Summit on the digital dividend in Belgrade attended by regulatory bodies and government delegations from states in South Eastern Europe including Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Turkey.

GSMA, that represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry, said it applauds all governments’ actions to establish a harmonized approach to spectrum allocation in South East Europe.

“The region of South East Europe lies on the borders of the European Union and achieving harmonised use of spectrum is important to the growth of the telecoms market and the wider economic well-being of the countries in it,” said Martin Whitehead, Director of GSMA Europe.

“A cohesive regional approach from EU member states and their neighbours in South East Europe will maximise the affordability of telecommunications services in the area. We are delighted that Minister Matic and the Serbian Ministry have taken a lead on this issue by bringing together key nations from across the region to discuss and encourage a unified approach to spectrum harmonisation,” he added.

GSMA informed that the objective of the meeting was to discuss how best to maximise the economic and social benefits promised by the digital dividend in South East Europe. Allocating some of the digital dividend to Mobile Broadband will increase Internet penetration and have a significant positive economic impact by driving innovation, job creation, productivity and competitiveness.

However, harmonisation of the spectrum on a regional basis is needed to drive down handset and network equipment costs and make Mobile Broadband affordable to consumers.

The unprecedented amount of spectrum that will be freed up in the switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial TV is known as the Digital Dividend. The Digital Dividend spectrum is located between 200 MHz and 1GHz. This spectrum band offers an excellent balance between transmission capacity and distance coverage.

If just 25%, or around 100MHz, of the spectrum currently used by analogue TV (470 – 862 MHz) was re-allocated to mobile communications, the mobile industry could dramatically speed up the rollout of broadband communications and increase coverage.

Because of its good signal propagation characteristics, less infrastructure is required to provide wider mobile coverage, meaning that communications services can be provided in rural areas at lower cost.

This is of core importance in South East Europe where population density is typically lower than in other parts of Europe. The region’s position on the borders of the EU also makes coordination between states more complex and the high number of multiple border issues threatens to complicate coordination further.

Harmonisation of digital dividend spectrum throughout Europe is an important element in the greater spectrum debate, as the mobile industry currently faces an urgent need for more spectrum to accommodate significant increases in Mobile Broadband usage.

Extending coverage to rural areas and ensuring that the ‘digital divide’ between town and country is lowered is also a vital element of EU policy. Work on the digital dividend must continue to ensure universal connectivity.

According to GSMA, the mobile industry needs around 100 MHz because:

• Economic studies show that about 100MHz gives the optimum trade-off in Europe
• It is in line with MEPs’ ITRE report
• It leaves broadcasters with the spectrum they need to offer more content (75% of the resource)
• This spectrum needs to be harmonised as much as possible to control cross-border interference and reduce terminal costs – separate national bandplans destroy value
• LTE needs wider bandwidths to offer mobile broadband data rates (2 x 20 MHz for up to 100 Mb/s downlink) that consumers want, efficiently
• Spectrum allocation needs to accommodate multiple operators to promote competition
• More may be needed in some markets on a national basis, which may happen at different times in different markets

What can be done to attain 100 MHz?

Allocation of the digital dividend is a national prerogative, meaning that Member States of the European Union are entitled to manage the freed up spectrum according to their national interests, provided that they are in line with the decision taken within the International Telecom Union (ITU). The Member States are likely to be bound also by a spectrum management framework, as set out at the European level, in order to guarantee benefits that stem from a minimum common denominator of spectrum allocation.

According to GSMA, these benefits include the possibility of harmonized frequencies, the balanced allocation of spectrum between the different service providers, and the avoidance of interference within the boundaries of the European Union. Overall, this would lead to faster, cheaper and better services with an increased possibility for content enhancement and interoperability of devices (e.g. Mobile TV).

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