The European Commission has signaled a change of emphasis on its attitude to interference issues involving LTE broadband and TV reception, writes Julian Clover.
There are three things for which the launch of Channel 5 will be remembered: a particularly bad rendition of the Manfred Mann hit 5-4-3-2-1, coverage of a Poland v England football match that seemed to last for a week, and a man who was sent round to retune video recorders to avoid interference.
Yes, in some areas of the UK Channel 5 had been allocated a frequency on top of the factory preset for video recorders, and if it wanted to broadcast Channel 5 had to foot the bill.
I mention this now because of movement in the debate on what happens to consumer equipment once the next generation broadband services, particularly those known as LTE, start to take-up spectrum freed under the Digital Dividend. It has been widely demonstrated that there is a severe risk of interference from LTE services when used in close proximity to the UHF tuners that form the basis of terrestrial, cable, and to a certain extent satellite TV services. Even if frequencies are cleared for the new services, the receivers will still be capable of picking up the signals.
In March, an Ofcom commissioned report into the possibility of interference from LTE handsets to DVB-T receivers concluded the installation of high quality filters and aerial flyleads can resolve the majority of issues. It is just a small piece of the mitigation puzzle. The consumer, if granny can really be expected to do anything, can help themselves but it is hardly their responsibility to sort out telecommuncations policy.
In a paper released by Cable Europe, the trade association highlights that in addition to the flylead problem, interference from the base stations can affect not only the viewer within their home but several viewers sharing a part of the distribution network (e.g. all customers behind the same amplifier, the same optical node).
In all probability it would be the platform operators that get the blame for something that is far from their fault. Setting aside the potential threat that the very launch of LTE could have on the next generation services already being deployed by the Cableco – some such as Telenet and Ziggo are hedging their bets by looking at LTE services themselves – there is an obvious issue that needs regulatory intevention.
The European Commission, which remains a strong proponent for widespread wireless access has indicated a subtle, yet significant shift in its approach. In a workshop organized on the back of complaints from the cable sector and consumer electronics industry, head of spectrum policy at the European Commission’s Information Society directorate general (DG), Pearse O’Donohue, said that “denial” of the problem by some stakeholders “is no longer tenable behaviour.”
The situation has not been helped by dissatisfaction with the role of standards bodies Cenelec and Etsi. What happens now is that the parties have been sent away with a clear mandate to come up with a solution in the next 12 months.
Most importantly O’Donohue concluded proceedings by stating that the EU recognises that there is a problem and there was a need for a wider solution.