Spanish communications regulator CNMC has called on the country’s government to adopt its proposal requiring operators to take a series of measures to prevent the rollout of 5G services on the 700 MHz band from interfering with Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) transmissions. Spain completed its second digital dividend plan to free up the 700 MHz band for 5G services in 2020, but TV transmissions still continue in the adjacent 470 to 694 MHz band, resulting in possible interference.
The CNMC said tests have shown that the alignment of 5G base stations and DTT broadcasting centers can be detrimental to DTT reception, which is why the approval of a draft order on the rollout of 5G networks must be adopted on an urgent basis. It also proposed launching a consumer advice campaign on procedures available for resolving incidents caused by interference.
Spain held auctions of 5G-compatible frequencies in the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands last year and recently began to reorder spectrum in the latter band to ensure that operators have contiguous frequency blocks for the rollout of 5G.
We recently chronicled in these pages the imbroglio in the United States of America over the potential interference between 5G network signals and navigational signals used in the commercial airline industry. Uncertainty over the technical aspects of this issue, coupled with a lack of communication among different regulators within the government, led to some costly flight cancellations and partial delays in rollouts of 5G by U.S. operators.
Now, in Spain we are seeing another regulatory controversy over the effect that 5G might have on another technology. Of course, in this case, it is TV rather than airplane altimeters that are said to be affected, so the stakes are not life and death. However, if one communications technology disrupts another, it is likely to be costly and to increase conflict within the telecommunications sector of the Spanish economy, and that is bad for business for all parties in involved.
If the government adopts the CNMC’s recommendation and forces operators to take measures to mitigate the effect on DTT, both technologies may well be able to proceed happily and profitably and to grow their respective businesses undisturbed and without undue restrictions. If not, there could be angst, especially the DTT side of the equation but not only.
5G is a new technology that is being rolled out and as such can use all the good will it can get. Many consumers still do not see 5G as something essential that is worth spending extra money for, given that they are already getting satisfactory results from 4G/LTE service. There is also a belief among the uninformed that 5G is dangerous. In that climate of opinion, it will be bad for 5G to be seen as causing harm in any way. MNOs should be mindful of this issue and do all they can to promote a good image for the new network technology. In this case, increased reliance on the 3.5 MHz band and less on the 700 MHz band (the one that may interfere with DTT) could be a good strategy.