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Digital broadcasting set to transform communication landscape by 2015: RRC-06

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MUMBAI: The conclusion of ITU's Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06) in Geneva saw the signing of a treaty agreement that is a major step in implementing World Summit on the Information Society objectives. The digitalization of broadcasting in Europe, Africa, Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran by 2015 represents a major landmark towards establishing a more equitable, just and people-centred Information Society.

The agreement will herald the development of 'all-digital' terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television. The digital switchover will leapfrog existing technologies to connect the unconnected in underserved and remote communities and close the digital divide.

"The most important achievement of the Conference," remarked ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi, "is that the new digital Plan provides not only new possibilities for structured development of digital terrestrial broadcasting but also sufficient flexibilities for adaptation to the changing telecommunication environment."

The Regional Radiocommunication Conference was chaired and brought to a conclusion by Kavouss Arasteh of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The agreement reached at RRC-06 paves the way for utilizing the full potential of information and communication technologies to achieve the internationally recognized development goals. The date of transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting in the year 2015 is intended to coincide with the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals.

The regional agreement for digital services has been reached in the frequency bands 174 - 230 MHz and 470 - 862 MHz. It marks the beginning of the end of analogue broadcasting.

The Conference agreed that the transition period from analogue to digital broadcasting, which begins at 0001 UTC 17 June 2006, should end on 17 June 2015, but some countries preferred an additional five-year extension for the VHF band (174-230 MHz).

The digital dividend

The switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting will create new distribution networks and expand the potential for wireless innovation and services. The digital dividend accruing from efficiencies in spectrum usage will allow more channels to be carried across fewer airwaves and lead to greater convergence of services.

The inherent flexibility offered by digital terrestrial broadcasting will support mobile reception of video, internet and multimedia data, making applications, services and information accessible and usable anywhere and at any time. It opens the door to new innovations such as Handheld TV Broadcast (DVB-H) along with High-Definition Television (HDTV) while providing greater bandwidth to existing mobile, fixed and radionavigation services. Services ancillary to broadcasting (wireless microphones, talk back links) are also planned on a national basis and need to be extended.

The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07), which will meet in the autumn of 2007, will deal with the regulatory aspects of the usage of the spectrum for these services.

Terrestrial digital broadcasting carries many advantages over the analogue system:

Expanded services

Higher quality video and audio

Greater variety and faster rates of data transmission

Consistency of data flows over long distances

More spectrum efficiency means more channels

This agreement, which paves the way for a new paradigm of wireless digital communication technologies, is expected to be extrapolated by other regions and countries and influence a global shift away from the analogue system that has been in place for the past 45 years.

During the five weeks of deliberations which began on 15 May, RRC-06 took decisions to allow iteration of the complex software tools used by the ITU secretariat as a basis to generate the draft plan that will facilitate the coordinated and timely introduction of digital broadcasting. The Plan assures that an outstanding 70'500 digital broadcasting requirements, including stations, will become a reality within the planned area. It succeeded in creating a level playing field as a new basis for competition.

The first session of this Conference (RRC-04) took place in May 2004 and established a solid, comprehensive and technical basis for the agreement, including the framework for the intersessional studies. It has already resulted in the accelerated introduction of digital terrestrial broadcasting in many countries. "Digital technologies are now transmitting high-resolution images of the Soccer World Cup from Germany to fans around the world who are watching the matches with excitement," said Utsumi. "Digital terrestrial broadcasting is now a reality with a bright future."

A complex process

Conference chairman Arasteh said that RRC-06 was a technically complex process comprising voluminous computational calculations and data processing tasks, electronic document handling and the use of five working languages. He added that ITU, although facing these challenges for the first time, could provide the Conference with adequate technical and regulatory expertise and support for the full satisfaction of the participating delegations.

More than 1000 delegates representing 104 countries met in Geneva to adopt the treaty agreement that will replace the analogue broadcasting plans existing since 1961 for Europe and since 1989 for Africa. The new digital Plan, based on broadcasting standards known as T-DAB (for sound) and DVB-T (for TV), covers a wide area of the world including Europe, countries of the CIS, Africa, Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A major challenge faced by the conference was to find ways for digital and analogue broadcasting to co-exist on the radio-frequency spectrum during the transition period without causing interference.

Cooperation with EBU and CERN

A key ingredient for the success of the Conference was the unprecedented level of cooperation between ITU, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The complex planning activities conducted at this conference and during the intersessional period were based on the software developed by EBU, which includes hundreds of thousands of programme lines. In preparing the Plan for digital terrestrial broadcasting, ITU experts performed meticulous calculations within a limited timeframe using two independent infrastructures: the ITU distributed system with 100 PCs and the CERN Grid infrastructure that is based on a few hundred dedicated CPUs from several European institutions.

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