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International Telecommunication Union
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Intense debate aims at future shape of digital broadcast services
Radiocommunication Conference meets in Geneva 15 May — 16 June 2006

Geneva, 22 May 2006 — The ITU Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06), in session since last week, has been making quiet but steady progress towards an ‘all-digital’ terrestrial broadcasting service for radio and television. This represents a significant step in the future development of information and communication technologies as well as the revolutionary direction it will provide in improving communications worldwide.

In its first week of deliberations, 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 digital broadcasts around the world in the future.

Mr Yoshio Utsumi, addressing the inaugural session of the Conference on 15 May, noted that digital terrestrial broadcasting is now a reality in many countries. "Many Member States have already established a cut-off date for migration from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting," he said. "Recognizing the advantages of the digital dividend, these countries are demanding immediate and unrestricted access to digital bandwidths. Meanwhile, other countries remain protective of the analogue system."

In view of this divergence, a major challenge of the Conference is to find ways of permitting digital and analogue broadcasting systems to co-habit on the radio frequency spectrum without causing interference. A regional agreement for the digital service, planned in the frequency bands 174-230 MHz and 470-862 MHz, should be reached at the end of the next five weeks of deliberations with important implications for countries of Europe and Africa (Region 1) and the Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Region 3).

Conference Chairman, Mr Kavouss Arasteh of the Islamic Republic of Iran, noted that the overall objective for RRC-06 must be to meet current digital broadcasting requirements while gaining the maximum flexibility for the future use of the spectrum becoming available as a result of digital technology efficiency gains. He added that such spectrum may be provided for broadcasting services, as well as other potential advanced communications services, matching both technological and commercial developments.

Digital terrestrial television broadcasting is already a reality in many countries within the planning area. In countries where terrestrial television is still dominant, application of digital broadcasting is providing more channels and increasing choice for the consumers. In other countries where there is a much higher penetration of cable and satellite and less reliance on terrestrial broadcasting, digital broadcasting offers mobile reception of video, internet and multimedia data.

Digital broadcasting is roughly six times more efficient than analogue, allowing more channels to be carried across fewer airwaves. The plans for digital switchover will therefore allow for an increase in the efficiency with which the spectrum is used — a digital dividend — which will open the way for wireless innovation and the potential for new services.

Mr Arasteh also co-chaired the first session of the Radiocommunication Conference in 2004 and chaired the intersessional planning activities.

Digital terrestrial broadcasting services will go a long way in connecting remote communities and in closing the digital divide. Mr Valery Timofeev, Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau of ITU, said, "This conference represents the first practical response in the radiocommunications sector to the decisions of the World Summit on the Information Society concerning the existing digital divide."

Nearly 700 delegates representing 120 administrations of ITU Members States within the planning area are currently debating complex technical, regulatory and political issues while simultaneously negotiating with neighbours on the coexistence of broadcasting and other wireless systems.

RRC-06 is running in parallel with two short-period conferences for the revision and abrogation of the Stockholm 1961 and Geneva 1989 Agreements dealing with frequency bands and articles relevant to analogue television.

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Updated : 2006-05-22