Broadcasters huddle up, as 5G roll-out plan gathers pace

Prasar Bharati is the latest to join chorus against 5G impact

Mumbai: Just as the industry was gearing up to welcome 2022, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) set the ball rolling on the 5G roll-out in India. The next wave of disruption in the telecom sector is set to hit 13 cities in the first phase: Gurugram, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jamnagar, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Pune, and Gandhi Nagar.

The auctions are likely to be held in mid-2022 following the Telcom department’s request for a recommendation on modalities such as reserve price, band plan, block size, and the quantum of spectrum. But amid all this, the broadcasters’ concerns continue to escalate, with apprehensions regarding a potential spectrum clash with 5G.

5G Vs Broadcasters

Airwaves in several bands including 526-698 MHz, 700 MHz, 800MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2500 MHz, 3300-3670 MHz, and 24.25-28.5 GHz have been identified for 5G auctions in India, whereas downlinks by all broadcasters intended for reception by MSOs are in the band of 3700-4200 MHz as prescribed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and are also governed by the downlink policy by the government. Over 600 licensed satellite channels in India operate in this band.

Ever since the 5G trials started in India in June 2021, broadcasters who claim to have faced interference on downlink frequencies during that period have been raising the issue with the MIB, DoT, and WPC (Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of DoT), and the Trai. There are concerns regarding potential interference due to the larger C band allocation to 5G and the limited guard band of 30 MHz between the two services.

The current upper limit of the National Frequency Allocation Plan 2018 is 3600 MHz. "A guard band of 100 MHz is ideal," broadcasters say. They further contend that the proposed revision of NFAP-18 to include new bands for 5G use by DOT’s arm WPC may even stretch beyond 3670 MHz to 3800 MHz. This could lead to serious disruption of satellite services for media and broadcast in the 3700-4000 MHz band.

Prasar Bharati joins the chorus against 5G

Joining the chorus, Prasar Bharati recently raised objections to the auctioning of the 526-582 MHz frequency band that is being used by Doordarshan for providing terrestrial TV broadcasting. According to media reports, the public broadcaster argued that airwaves in this frequency range are required for expansion and modernisation of its services. Prasar Bharati has told Trai that “availability of spectrum is very crucial for planning DD TV Transmitters. Thus, the decision to use frequency band 470-698 for IMT purpose can be taken only after finalisation of terrestrial TV services by Doordarshan or other private broadcasters.”

“Many analogue, digital-ready and digital terrestrial TV transmitters are operating in the band. Also, digital-ready transmitters are under installation in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir for which the wireless planning & coordination wing (WPC) has provided for in this band only," it added.

Another hurdle on the way: Field trials

Private broadcasters have also expressed displeasure about field trials of 5G services without notifying the framework – specifically the study of emission and interference on already existing C Band satellite service, non-involvement of incumbent users of the C-band who have been using the satellites for over 30 years in the trials, lack of study on the use of band pass filters at cable headends as well as no consideration of their funding, non-determination of emission safeguards and monitoring architecture for 5G emitting towers, and absence of potential options which can be implemented immediately.  

As a solution, they have suggested the use of alternative bands for 5G - an option unavailable for C&S services. Based on trial information available with the regulator and DoT, they have further urged the authorised bodies to recommend and publish the specifications for appropriate Band Pass Filters to be used by MSOs, IPTV, and HITs operators per downlink chain for receiving satellite TV signals.

In order to compensate for the lower availability of C-band transponder capacity, the regulators have been requested to allow broadcasters to use foreign satellites without seeking any clarification from them. Fast track approval for newer compression technologies such as HEVC or H.265 that use lower transponder capacity in comparison to present MPEG4 bandwidth recommendation without any reduction in the quality of the television channels has also been sought. The minimum bandwidth recommended for approval by all regulatory bodies for HEVC is 4Mbps per HD channel and 1.5Mbps per SD channel.

The television broadcasting and distribution industries in India are facing major disruption under the new tariff regime. Even though they welcome the launch of 5G, which holds great opportunity for the M&E sector in the era of convergence, the smaller players have argued for government intervention in the form of subsidies if they have to move to a higher or alternative frequency.

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