Access Alert: European preparations for WRC-23 Agenda Item 1.5

Access Alert: European preparations for WRC-23 Agenda Item 1.5


Across the EU, spectrum within the 470-694 MHz range is harmonised for use by terrestrial broadcast services, providing television services to end users. The spectrum is also used by PMSE (Programme Making and Special Events) to aid in content creation and the production of large events. In response to changing demands for access to this spectrum, use of the 470-694 MHz band is set to be reviewed through Agenda Item 1.5 at the upcoming World Radio Conference 2023 (WRC-23), which will be held later this year in Dubai.

European preparations for WRC-23

As part of European preparations for the Agenda Item, the RSPG[1] has published, and is consulting on, its draft opinion regarding ‘Strategy on the future use of the frequency band 470-694 MHz (the sub-700 MHz band) beyond 2030 in the EU’.[2] The opinion reiterates the main conditions of the 2017 ‘UHF Decision’,[3] which set the current situation within the EU. The UHF Decision required clearance of broadcast services from the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) by 2020 (with a possible two-year extension) for use by mobile. It also guaranteed access to the remaining spectrum for broadcasting until at least 2030 as required and provided flexibility to implement other non-broadcast services, provided they do not interfere with another Member State’s services (unless appropriately coordinated).

EU Member States are yet to take advantage of the flexibility provided, despite the availability of potential technical solutions. For example, Member States could operate supplementary downlink (SDL, i.e., downlink-only mobile services) or 5G Broadcast (under the current broadcast allocation) in parts of the band in line with the Geneva 2006 Agreement,[4] or new services could make use of broadcast ‘whitespaces’[5] (noting that this could reduce access by PMSE, which also makes use of such whitespaces). The RSPG sees the lack of deployment of other services as owing to several factors, including there being no established market demand, renegotiating international coordination agreements presenting a significant challenge, uncertainty regarding the post-2030 situation, and the lack of a harmonised EU framework.

The RSPG outlines three possible future scenarios for Member States for the sub-700 MHz band (noting that in many cases, these positions also apply to non-EU nations): continued usage by broadcast, continued usage by broadcast with some implementation of SDL, or implementation of a dedicated IMT band (potentially 600 MHz). The result in each Member State will depend on several factors, including, but not limited to, the extent to which broadcast services are used, the extent to which additional mobile spectrum is required, and the extent to which demand for spectrum by PMSE can be met given any changes in spectrum usage. While the RSPG position is for Member States, it will be watched closely by neighbouring nations also.

The European Commission has published a review of spectrum use by Member States in the sub-700 MHz,[6] finding that while there is a decline in the usage of DTT (a decrease of approximately 3% between 2015 and 2019 across the EU[7]), there are significant differences between Member States: Nordic countries have seen faster decreases, while countries such as Croatia, Greece, and Portugal have seen overall increases. The same differences are observed for PMSE; for example, approximately 50% of Member States indicated growth in demand for PMSE spectrum (by approximately 10% a year in the Netherlands and 20% a year in Spain), with the other 50% either having observed little change in the demand or not being able to comment on changes to demand (noting that in many Member States, access to this spectrum is licence-exempt for PMSE). These findings also don’t take into account those countries that are geographically part of Europe but not within the EU.

Developments in PMSE technology have improved spectral efficiency, but upgrading to the newest equipment will take time and it may not be economically viable for all users to do so. SRF[8] found that the daily requirement for PMSE spectrum, based on the technologies currently in use, varied between 42 MHz for small, local events to 115 MHz for large events. The requirement for major events was as high as 174 MHz, potentially requiring as much as 224 MHz in the future (i.e., the whole sub-700 MHz UHF band). Even now, securing access to such large amounts of spectrum would be difficult given that the sub-700 MHz band is shared with DTT transmissions.

In the face of this varied and changing usage, RSPG notes that the harmonised implementation of a mobile band, such as 600MHz, would not be possible before 2030, and that even post-2030 a single approach may not be appropriate for all Member States. RSPG believes that the outcome of WRC-23 Agenda Item 1.5 should not constrain any later EU decision on the European legal framework in this band. For Member States who continue to use the spectrum for broadcasting, RSPG recommends migration to the most spectrally efficient transmission and encoding standards. Further, any future EU regulatory action should facilitate, as much as is feasible, the implementation of various scenarios across EU Member States, reinforcing that spectrum for PMSE will still be required, even in Member States that no longer require the spectrum for broadcasting.

Practical implications of flexibility

Catering to multiple scenarios is likely to be difficult, particularly given the comparatively congested nature of spectrum users in parts of Europe. It is expected that GE06, and the coordination procedures set out within, would be retained in the face of any changing usage of the band. However, compatibility studies conducted under Agenda Item 1.5 have shown large variations in the separation distances required to protect users of both the broadcast and mobile services, with no consensus reached on the appropriate values. Several factors are likely to affect the difficulty associated with coordination in this band, including country size, the number of neighbouring countries, and the extent to which the spectrum usage of neighbouring countries is shielded (such as if borders are mountainous). Interference management between countries with many neighbours across flat terrain or sea, a characteristic that is not uncommon across Europe, is likely to be difficult.

As an example, the 700 MHz clearance programme required years of spectrum planning, international coordination, and infrastructure modification effort (to transmission infrastructure and, in some cases, filtering to household receive antennas). GE06 allows for services to operate under the envelope concept[9] or, if this isn’t sufficient, allows countries to begin international coordination procedures with neighbouring countries. Through the 700 MHz clearance programme, regional groups were set up to ease coordination between neighbouring countries; for example, WEDDIP (West European Digital Dividend Implementation Platform), NEDDIF (North European Digital Dividend Implementation Forum), and SEDDIF (South European Digital Dividend Implementation Forum). For the most part, this was successful. However, cases of interference between broadcast and mobile were still observed, even within the same country during the different rollout phases.[10]

This interference occurred even when Member States had the same end spectrum users; i.e., broadcast in sub-700 MHz and mobile in the 700 MHz band. Under a more flexible approach with potentially different users across borders, such interference may be more prevalent and damaging. There are learnings from clearance of the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands that can be applied in a more flexible case, but significant frequency planning and international coordination will be required to ensure interference is identified and rectified appropriately. Where one country wants to retain its broadcast services but its neighbour wishes to deploy mobile, there are likely to be difficulties in ensuring the protection of both, potentially limiting new deployments in border regions. This is made more challenging if neighbouring countries are not willing to enter into international coordination discussions. For example, RSPG expects coordination with countries to the east of the EU to be difficult, which may limit the extent to which mobile could be deployed, or broadcast services protected, in the eastern Member States.

What next?

Regarding Agenda Item 1.5, the EU does not contribute directly to WRC, instead influencing decisions either through Member State administrations or CEPT, the regional organisation. CEPT is developing positions for the upcoming WRC-23 Agenda Item on the topic, with the current proposals being no change, a secondary allocation to the mobile service (effectively putting PMSE and mobile at the same level of priority) that could be upgraded to a primary allocation in the future, or a primary allocation to the mobile service.[11]

At the time of writing, none of these proposals have been agreed upon. However, it is important to note that none would remove the broadcasting allocation from the band. If a mobile allocation resulted from WRC-23, the EU could choose to continue allowing access to the band as it does at present; i.e., with priority for broadcasting and access by other services only if they did not interfere with this use. Similarly, even in the face of the Radio Regulations, national sovereignty remains. If no mobile allocation results from WRC-23, the EU could still choose to implement a dedicated mobile band without an allocation, provided the correct assurances and protections were given to neighbouring countries and regions.

In any case, affected administrations and spectrum users need to be aware of the implications of any changes to the Radio Regulations and EU positions regarding the band. Across Europe, where broadcast and PMSE are still heavily used, changes to spectrum usage will require significant planning and reengineering efforts. Some nations may be able to continue to support the current range of broadcast and PMSE services by taking advantage of technology developments to improve spectral efficiency, but in others, some services may need to be delivered via alternative approaches; for example, streaming or IPTV. Conversely, where broadcast and PMSE are less widely used, the spectrum may be more efficiently used in the provision of mobile broadband without the need for significant reengineering.

Changes to the spectrum usage will necessarily highlight other considerations, both technical and political. For example, the ability of broadband networks to handle the increased traffic resulting from streaming will need to be assessed, as well as whether broadcaster coverage targets need to be revised in the face of different delivery technologies, whether television delivered via a broadband network (with associated subscription charge) still constitutes free-to-air, and how to provide public service media content to those currently unconnected by broadband networks. Clearly, additional mobile spectrum would have a role to play in this. The improved connectivity provided by high-coverage mobile networks could help to bridge the digital divide and support the EU Digital Decade goals.

The outcome of WRC-23 will have an impact on the band globally, but decisions at a European level will also be vitally important. A number of the aspects considered here focus on an EU level but have ramifications more broadly across Europe and the rest of ITU Region 1. Many of the same issues will be encountered by other nations in terms of how to allow flexibility of use, and the ultimate EU position will factor into the considerations of other nations and regions. Managing the use of the band in the face of increasingly disparate demands will be challenging and require a careful and considered approach.

Access Partnership is closely tracking these issues and is well-placed to provide the necessary support across the technical, policy, and regulatory sectors. For more information, please contact Oliver Mercer at [email protected].

[1] The Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) is a high-level advisory group that assists the European Commission in the development of radio spectrum policy. The Members of the Group are representatives of the EU Member States and the EEA EFTA countries. Representatives of the EU candidate countries, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), and the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute (ETSI) are also invited to attend plenary meetings as observers.
[2] RSPG, 2023. (Draft) RSPG Opinion Strategy on the future use of the frequency band 470-694 MHz beyond 2030 in the EU. Available at:
[3] Decision (EU) 2017/899 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 on the use of the 470-790 MHz frequency band in the Union. Available at:
[4] The Geneva 2006 Agreement (GE06) governs the usage of the band, ensures the protection of coordinated usage, and provides a coordination procedure for new services.
[5] Whitespaces refer to spectrum that is unused in a particular location, owing to the large reuse distances associated with high-power terrestrial broadcast, presenting an opportunity for localised use of the spectrum by another service provided its operation is compatible with broadcast.
[6] European Commission, 2022. Study: the use of the sub-700MHz UHF band for TV broadcasting and events. Available at:,PMSE)%20until%20at%20least%202030.
[7] COVID-19 brought an increase in television viewing in many countries. It is not yet fully clear if this increase will be sustained.
[8] SRF, 2022. Report on spectrum requirements for Audio PMSE. Available at:
[9] The envelope concept ensures that new assignments in the frequency plan do not cause more interference or claim more protection than the original entry agreed upon in GE06.
[10] ITU-R, 2022. ITU-R BT.2301-4 National field reports on the introduction of IMT in the bands with co-primary
allocation to broadcasting and mobile services. Available at:
[11] CEPT, 2023. Draft CEPT Brief on WRC-23 agenda item 1.5. Available at:

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