Spectrum allocation a challenge for broadcasters

Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director general at UAE TRA says governments must be open about spectrum allocation
Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director general at UAE TRA
Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director general at UAE TRA

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Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director general at UAE TRA, has said that governments should be open with operators about their long term plans for spectrum allocation.

Al Ghanim notes that the UAE has already released the 800MHz band and it is planning to work on the 700MHz for mobile broadband. “Regarding the 700MHz, countries in the Middle East and Africa region should start planning, but I can tell that the transition is already happening in this part of the region [Middle East].”

The Future of Telecoms Council, which is meeting in Dubai this week,is discussing a new model for the telecommunications industry that allows sustainability to all the players on the market, Al Ghanim said. The council is also addressing new technology adoption and regulatory issues.

According to Ashley Dove, General Manager at Vislink, the allocation of spectrum is always going to be a challenge for broadcaster, however. “Faced with spiralling data rates yet limited spectrum availability, today’s broadcasters are in a position where they need to do more with less,” says Ashley. “This is nothing new as the spectrum crunch has been an issue for some time. However, when you consider that spectrum allocated to broadcasters is now under renewed threat from mobile operators, the broadcast environment has become more challenging than ever before.”

Ashley also points out that broadcasters are losing spectrum at a time when 4K is becoming increasingly mainstream. Roughly four times the quality of 1080p HD, it’s no surprise that 4K requires a bigger slice of spectrum for wireless transmission. “However, spectrum is a finite resource and with mobile operators steadily encroaching on the allocation for digital TV broadcast, allocating more to cater for 4K video isn’t always possible.”

Ashley says the industry must take a two-pronged response to the challenge. “While it’s essential to put safeguards in place to protect spectrum allocated for broadcast, it’s also important to make existing equipment as efficient as possible so as not to overwhelm existing infrastructure,” she says. “New encoding standards like H.265 will become crucial in the next five years, regardless of whether plans to protect broadcast spectrum are introduced.”

Al Ghanim did not comment on the introduction of protections for broadcasters in the local market, but did insist that the regulator was taking a long view of the challenges facing the broader telecoms industry.

“We have the telcos, which are investing in infrastructure and are providing services to customers, and we have OTT players, such as Google, Facebook or Skype, which are making money from the customers,” says Al Ghanim. “What we are looking at is what the telecoms sector is going to look like in the future, what is the business model that we will need to ensure the sustainability of investment, infrastructure, innovation and technology to help the country and its digital economy,” he commented.

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