Replacing UHF TV Broadcasting with LTE system?

I got an interesting suggestion from a colleague – would it make sense to provide streaming TV over an LTE system using fixed antennas operating in the UHF bands – i.e. replacing current DVB-T systems and freeing “prime” mobile service spectrum for more flexible use than just traditional TV ?

Well, I think my colleague is right – we need more flexible systems that can adapt to the needs of the users – the age of “one-trick ponys” has certainly passed. 10 years ago most people in most northern European countries had “Linear” Broadcast TV as their main source of information and entertainment which has made TV Broadcasting a politically prioritized technology. In 10 years very few will watch TV the way one did 10 years ago and then the motivation for using “prime” mobile spectrum for serving a few percent of the users will be very week. So if we can solve these few users problem with a general, IP based solution, thats fine. On the other hand, building a system designed for traditional (linear streaming) TV based on new technology I think is meaningless – the users will not be interested by the time we are done. DVB-H is a very good example of solving yesterdays problem with tomorrows technology.

On the political scene consumer broadband internet access is now becoming the topic of the day and my guess is that this will take priority over “Broadcast TV access” in the next few years – eventually leading to a plan for dismantling the DVB-T networks, freeing spectrum for mobile access. In the densely populated areas where most households already are on cable this is a “no-brainer” already today. When the technology shift will happens (not if!) depends on political inertia and some problems mainly related to rural access – where DVB-T is still quite efficient. LTE systems do not get that much help from more spectrum in the coverage department. Admittedly, lower frequencies provide somewhat more favorable coverage properties, but its not dramatically different to 8-900 MHz). It will still be very expensive to provide TV-grade 10-20 Mbit/s data rates in rural areas – regardless of technology. In Sweden/Finland maybe we are talking about 10- 20% of the households that (for economical reasons) will never get fiber access, nor 10 Mb+ mobile broadband. Even though you can watch standard TV at lower data rates, I doubt this would be politically accepted in Sweden (e.g. having lower quality if you live in the “outback”). Maybe it will be cheaper to provide these users with satellite dishes! Compared with spectrum fees being paid, I think this would be a good deal for the operators. ;-)

About Jens Zander

Professor Jens Zander is professor in Radio Communication Systems at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. He has been among the few in Swedens Ny Teknik magazine's annual list of influential people in ICT that have been given the epithet “Mobile Guru”. He is one of the leading researchers in mobile communication and is the Scientific director of the industry/academia collaboration center Wireless@KTH. His research group focuses on three main areas – the efficient and scalable use of the radio frequency spectrum, economic aspects of mobile systems and application and energy efficiency in future wireless infrastructures.
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