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Digital Dividend could cost cable TV dear

EU to evaluate interference claims

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The EU is to investigate claims that 4G mobile networks could knock out cable TV, if allowed to deploy in the "Digital Dividend" spectrum.

The European Union is to carry out laboratory tests to establish if a handset, or nearby base station, transmitting on the old analogue-TV frequencies now known as the Digital Dividend, can generate interference to cable TV transmissions - the cable companies being eager to reserve a slice of the dividend pie if they're going to have to update their kit.

The shift to Digital TV frees up a load of radio spectrum around 800MHz that governments around Europe, and the world, are eager to sell off - in the interests of providing quality services obviously. The billions added to the treasury would obviously be a mere byproduct.

No-one is quite sure what that spectrum will be used for, but most in the industry expect to see 4G technology, specifically LTE, filling a lot of it. Given that analogue TV will have been cleared out, there should be minimal interference concerns, but Cable TV transmissions use the same frequencies, albeit down a wire rather than through the air. Therefore the Cable industry is starting to think it might need some dividend dollars to pay for network upgrades.

Today's LTE networks (well, network, there's only one right now) are right up at 2.6GHz, well clear of TV signals, but after the auctions LTE is expected to spread rapidly down the dial.

Cable TV often uses the same frequencies as analogue TV: operators just push the signal down a wire rather than through the air. Early cable networks did exactly that, with the user simply plugging in a cable instead of an aerial. But the need for tiered packages and signal encryption has made things a little more complicated, though the transmission frequencies have largely remained the same. That puts cable right where analogue TV is today operated, and where LTE is expected to be tomorrow.

Interference from analogue TV transmissions is possible, but the relative signal strengths render the risks largely academic. But the cable industry believes an LTE handset sat beside an incoming coaxial cable poses more of a risk, and while they admit that no-one really knows, they don't want to be caught out. PolicyTracker reports that initial test results, received by the EU on December 8th, indicate the problem does exist, though the scale is still unknown.

Which is what's prompting the new round of EU tests, to establish if there really is a problem so that the parties involved can start arguing about who's going to provide the money to fix it. ®

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