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5G Broadcast: Mobile network operators not keen on public TV network

5G could be used to broadcast TV and radio for free. Mobile network operators don't like the sound of that.

As reported last week, Austria's broadcasters are pushing for 5G to be used to transmit TV and radio services in the frequency band currently used by digital terrestrial television.

The plan is to make the access to the network free of charge and accessible even without a SIM card or attachment to any network. Any device able to connect to 5G, be it a TV or a mobile, within range of the signal, would be able to access a range of live and on-demand services available on the network.

A number of 5G Broadcast TV and radio trials are occurring or are planned across Europe as broadcasters try out what the new technology could do for them.

But Austrian newspaper Der Standard, which published details of these plans, has now heard from T-Mobile, a division of Deutsche Telekom, who has a network in Austria. They've objected to the plans, which would force them to effectively allow their future 5G users to roam onto the 5G Broadcasting network.

"T-Mobile Austria invests hundreds of millions in its own infrastructure every year". Spokeswoman Barbara Holzbauer told Der Standard. "Admitting broadcasting would not only be a restriction of our spectrum usage rights, but a massive interference with our infrastructure." We reject the demand for obligatory free integration of TV content. "

What T-Mobile says is relevant, as the parent company operates networks in many parts of Europe. And its reasons for objecting are likely to be echoed elsewhere.

Other mobile operators are at least publicly adopting a less hostile approach at this stage, with preferring to wait until more of the proposals are known before making a statement. Hutchison Three talks of being open to a "cooperation" with broadcasters.

Globally, mobile network operators make much of their money by offering monthly data plans to users; if users had the choice between accessing TV and radio content via a free public 5G Broadcast network or a paid-for and metered mobile network, users would likely prefer the free option, as many already tend to do when a free wi-fi hotspot is available. There are fears that this would undermine mobile network investment in infrastructure and how much operators would want to bid for new 5G frequencies if they knew there was going to be a public network that they would have to allow their users to connect to, even if the public network was just for TV and radio.

Mobile networks are also already eyeing up the last remaining sub-700MHz TV frequencies for their own use after 2030, when current frequency allocation agreements across Europe end, rather than allowing broadcasters to retain access - this is already happening in the USA.

On the flipside, there is criticism over the mobile networks relative inefficient use of spectrum which is already limiting the number of available frequencies for current terrestrial TV services.

Mobile networks have the relative luxury of having sufficient frequencies to accommodate three different generations of technology - 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE. Areas where any of these services are unavailable are areas where operators are not fully utilising their frequency allocation. 

The use of three different generations of technology is despite the fact that many users are accustomed to replacing their mobile devices every few years, meaning that relatively few devices actually still need to connect to older networks.

In contrast, television users tend to have their TV sets for much longer - and terrestrial TV network operators don't have the ability to duplicate their service across three different generations of technology (e.g. analogue, DVB-T and T2) - with TV owners keeping their TV sets for much longer than an average smartphone, major TV changes have to come in the form of large-scale switchover schemes to nudge viewers to upgrade to newer tech. And broadcasters and infrastructure providers are having to support switches to new technology in much shorter timescales than mobile networks.

5G Broadcasting may well change that, with ultimately all devices, including TVs, able to connect to 5G or wifi to access television and radio, with large screen TVs behaving more and more like a large screen tablet or smartphone in terms of functionality and operating system. But whether mobile network operators will lock their SIMs to stop devices from accessing any public 5G Broadcasting network remains to be seen.