Digital Dividend Review statement

Ofcom has issued a statement setting out what it describes as one of the most important decisions we have ever made: how to award the spectrum freed up by digital switchover, the digital dividend, for new users. The decision matters because the spectrum to be freed up is exceptional in that it can readily be used to provide high bandwidth services over long distances and into buildings, and because the opportunity to put this spectrum to new use does not arise often.

Ofcom favours a market led, service and technology neutral approach, arguing that giving spectrum to one use will tend to reduce flexibility and blunt incentives. The one exception to this market led approach is programme making and special events (PMSE) which already uses interleaved spectrum on a large scale. This is an extremely diverse community, and Ofcom considers that it would not be able to take part effectively in an auction. They will therefore award a package of interleaved spectrum to meet PMSE users needs.

Licence exempt use of interleaved spectrum will be allowed for cognitive devices. Cognitive radio is a new technology that can detect spectrum that is otherwise unused and transmit without causing harmful interference. It has the potential to support many uses, including high speed broadband. The technology is particularly suited to operating in interleaved spectrum, where a significant capacity is often unused at any particular location.

Most of the available interleaved spectrum will be reserved to meet the needs of PMSE users. PMSE is an existing user of interleaved spectrum, but comprises a large and diverse community who would find it difficult to coordinate a bid for access to spectrum. A single package of interleaved spectrum will therefore be awarded to a licensee who will act as a band manager. Channel 69 will continue to be available for PMSE use throughout the UK on a licensed basis, and greater licence exempt use of channel 70 will be promoted for PMSE in the interests of community users.

Geographic packages of interleaved spectrum suitable for local television will be awarded, but their use will not be restricted to this service. Ofcom has identified around 25 possible locations across the UK where there is evidence of sufficient demand to justify offering such packages. Each package could allow the operation of a low power DTT multiplex carrying several channels.

No spectrum will be reserved for DTT services in HD. Many organisations and individuals have pressed Ofcom to set aside spectrum for DTT in HD, but Ofcom has since published detailed proposals for upgrading the DTT platform to introduce new technologies on one of the six multiplexes. They are now confident that HD can be accommodated by the introduction of DVB-T2 and H.264 technology without setting aside any further spectrum.

No spectrum will be reserved for mobile television or mobile broadband, but the spectrum will be packaged in a way that enables the widest possible range of uses, including additional DTT multiplexes. Ofcom regards mobile broadband, mobile TV, and additional DTT multiplexes as the most likely uses of cleared spectrum, but does not see a case for reserving any spectrum exclusively for these uses.

Channel 36 will also be auctioned alongside cleared spectrum. The channel is currently used for ground based aeronautical radar, but this will cease in 2009. Channel 36 will therefore be available UK wide before other cleared spectrum, which will only be fully vacated when digital switchover ends in 2012. Early use of the channel will be allowed, but it will not be auctioned separately as many options for using this spectrum would involve combining it with other frequencies.

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