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EU sets ball rolling on ominous telly spectrum review

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The Electronic Communications Committee, Europe’s continent-wide guardian of radio, has kicked off a "major study" of the TV broadcast bands with a view to presenting its findings at the World Radio Conference in 2015.

A new Task Group will look carefully at the band, which runs from 470-694MHz and is earmarked for broadcast TV across Europe. Mobile phones are much sexier than TV, so the result will no doubt be a revaluation of that earmarking to let government flog the bands off to the mobile networks.

Not that it will matter much in the UK. By 2020 our own Freeview broadcasters will likely be paying £240m a year for the frequencies it uses, which is a serious hit to a non-profit organisation.

By 2018 Freeview is also expected to have shuffled down the dial to make space at 700MHz for iPad-friendly 4G, something France today announced it would be replicating.

France plans to get the 700MHz band onto the auction block by the end of 2013 in order, and - just like the UK - it hopes shifting to MPEG4 and DVB-T2 will enable its broadcasts to fit more services into the reduced spectrum.

Once that shuffling is done, the UK, France and most of Europe will be running broadcast TV between 470 and 694MHz, with little option for greater efficiencies without a significant reduction in services.

Narrowband services, delivered over the internet, may reduce some reliance on broadcast frequencies. But as long as Corrie and EastEnders are pulling in 10 million viewers apiece, the efficiency of broadcast is hard to dispute.

Shifting viewers to satellite would help Freesat and Sky use far higher frequencies, which propagate well though a vacuum, and over line-of-sight, but are less valuable on Earth.

The Task Group (snappily named TG6) has only just been formed, and will spend a year deciding if terrestrial TV is worth keeping.

It's strange to think that broadcast TV, probably the most significant technical development of a generation, will likely have an operational span of less than a human lifetime. ®

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