More Spectrum Changes Possible for European Sports Broadcasters

By: Kevin Hilton, European Correspondent, Sports Video Group Europe (SVGE)

Wireless technologies are an integral part of television sports production, with microphones, cameras, in-ear monitors (IEMs), and communications systems connected over radio frequencies delivering the flexibility broadcasters and facilities companies need to work on increasingly large-scale events.

Demand for spectrum in broadcasting continues to grow but this is matched and exceeded by the telecom sector calling for more frequencies to be made available for mobile broadband and next generation phone technology. The World Radio Conference (WRC) has already paved the way for the 700MHz band to be released for new mobile and other media use, a move that could be ratified next year.

Some countries, including Denmark and Sweden, are reportedly working on the basis that 700MHz will become available for non-broadcast operations, while in the UK TV, radio and frequency regulator Ofcom has issued a consultation document on the possible re-allocation of the band, which follows the recent freeing up of the 800MHz band for 4G.

As part of the so-called digital dividend frequencies for the PMSE (programme makers and special events) sector, which includes users of wireless mics, IEMs and radio cameras, had to be re-allocated, while there was the possibility of interference to digital terrestrial TV (DTT) transmissions. Broadcasters and the PMSE lobby are concerned that any changes in 700MHz would cause more problems and further reduce the amount of spectrum they can use.

At the same time the European Commission (EC) is looking at the future of 470-790MHz in the UHF band, including the evolving demand from both broadband and broadcasting over the next 10 years; how network capacity can be improved, particularly with better reuse of existing spectrum rights; and the possibilities for implementing next-generation transmission or compression technologies, such as DVB-T2, LTE-A and HEVC.

Working with stakeholders

PMSE and broadcast lobbying body BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group) was instrumental in securing new frequencies and compensation for wireless equipment users as part of the 800MHz re-allocation and is now actively involved in discussions regarding the new proposed changes. BEIRG spokesman Alan March comments that the “future of the entire UHF band beyond 2020 is not looking good” but that “at least broadcasters have woken up” to the fact.

Ofcom says it has “worked hard to access allocation” for both PMSE and DTT and is working with stakeholders in both sectors. “We do have quite a close relationship with PMSE stakeholders,” comments an Ofcom spokesman, “and we are still working with them”. He added that submission of responses to the 700MHz consultation document was open until the end of August.

Every week in the UK, as in other countries, broadcast coverage of sporting events requires a high number of frequencies to accommodate the number of wireless devices being used. This summer’s Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Glasgow will call for a bigger than average allocation of spectrum. Ofcom is organising a “full spectrum plan” for CWG 2014, which includes licensing wireless users and managing any cases of interference. It will work with Arqiva PMSE, which manages PMSE services on its behalf (a role previously taken by JFMG), to “establish and operate licensing processes and effective coordination arrangements between the Games Family and other PMSE users in the Glasgow area”. In its Annual Plan document for 2014-15, Ofcom stated: “Our contribution to the success of the event will be ensuring that spectrum is used effectively, with the least disruption to existing users.”

Ofcom took the same role for the 2012 Olympic Games. This was held under the previous spectrum allocation arrangements prior to re-allocation but even then additional frequencies had to be made available from the military and other non-broadcast users.

SVGE understands that representatives of both Ofcom and Arqiva PMSE were on site at the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend broadcast in Glasgow from 23-25 May. As this event took place in the same city that will host the CWG, it was seen as a good opportunity to see if there were enough frequencies for a large-scale live transmission. The Ofcom spokesman would not confirm or deny that anyone from the regulator was present last weekend.