War brewing over 700 MHz

By Park Hyung-ki

Broadcasting, telecom companies fight for ‘golden spectrum’

  • Published : Feb 19, 2014 - 19:49
  • Updated : Feb 19, 2014 - 19:49
Illustration by Park Gee-young

The conflict between the broadcasting and telecom industries over the lucrative 700 megahertz spectrum band continues to escalate with no progress in sight.

Not only has the contentious issue further divided the industries that should seek to collaborate in the era of technological convergence, but also pulled apart the involved parties such as government agencies and business associations.

The end of analogue broadcasting in 2012, which made the band of frequencies ranging from 698 MHz to 806 MHz available for clearer and longer-distance communication, has led both sides to raise their voice and claim their rights to use what they call the “golden spectrum.”

The Korea Communications Commission, which governs frequencies used by broadcasters, is seemingly siding with the country’s terrestrial television networks such as KBS, MBC and SBS, arguing that they should use the band in the public interest for next-generation ultra-high definition services.

“A lot of others such as content producers and display makers are also depending on it as it could boost the UHD ecosystem and the country’s edge especially in displays over high-tech countries such as Japan,” an industry source suggested.

KCC standing committee members called for the government to quickly allocate the 700 MHz spectrum to broadcasters so that they can deliver UHD services ahead of other countries.

“We do not have much time,” said KCC committee member Yang Moon-seok last month.

“France is scheduled to start terrestrial UHD TV broadcasting in 2016, and the U.S., which will set standards late next year, in 2018. Japan will also start the service as early as this year.”

Korean broadcasters unveiled plans last year to invest 1.1 trillion won ($1 billion) to upgrade equipment and 7 trillion won to produce content for UHD until 2025.

Telecom companies such as SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus, meanwhile, said if the band is not allocated to the industry to accommodate the expected increase in mobile data traffic, Korea will be isolated from the global mobile community.

They noted that foreign markets, including the U.S. and Taiwan, have either allocated or plan to auction the 700 MHz off to telecom companies interested in investing and upgrading network systems as quickly as they can for newer services.

“Korea’s telecom industry has aggressively invested to provide better services as seen from their adoption of Long Term Evolution and LTE-Advanced technology,” another industry source said.

The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, which seemed to support the telecom industry, is the control tower for spectrum allocation and retrieval.

The Prime Minister’s Office makes the final review of the government’s allocation plans before the Science, ICT and Future Planning Ministry approves and assigns frequencies via auctions.

Observers, however, said that since the stakes were high, decisions on the spectrum allocation should be made carefully after research and discussions.

“The government should not side with just one interest group. A consensus should be first reached on the matter among the regulators and the industries,” said Park Sung-kwon, a professor of electronics and computer engineering at Hanyang University.

The controversial 700 MHz spectrum band is especially attractive to both sides as it can travel a long distance and penetrate walls with less noise disruption, Park noted.

Officials from the KCC and the Science, ICT and Future Planning Ministry said in a briefing to Cheong Wa Dae early this week that it would be difficult to reach a conclusion on the matter within the year.

By Kim Young-won and Park Hyong-ki