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As the first digital switchover draws to an end, do we need a second switch?

With the digital switchover largely complete after the London region turned off its analogue transmissions last week, discussions are already turning to a possible 'second switchover' that would free up another chunk of the UHF spectrum. However, there is already major opposition from special events organisers and programme makers, who having already lost 60MHz of spectrum in the first switch also stand to lose a further 100MHz in the second switch. So is this second switch feasible or desirable for the UK?

Quite aside from the significant planning process involved (the first switchover cost hundreds of millions of pounds to implement) and the potential for major consumer confusion, rather than freeing up more spectrum a second switchover could actually end up stifling innovation and not delivering either the desired financial or technological dividend to the country.

While the 'digital dividend' from the first switchover has freed up a lot of useful spectrum for new mobile services and new innovations, such as White Space transmissions, the putative second switch could potentially do the opposite for the UK.

The additional spectrum would most likely be set aside for mobile networks due to the range and propagation properties of this 100MHz of prime spectrum that is now under discussion, and certainly in Spain, Germany and France where this spectrum has already been auctioned significant funds have been raised.

With the 4G auctions so delayed in the UK, mobile operators are unlikely to be keen on another auction in the near future. However, they still wouldn't want the spectrum to be made licence free or to be used by potentially competing transmission systems like White Space.

Viewed from this perspective a second switchover could actually be seen as 'anti-competitive', putting a huge dampener on the potential for innovations in White Space and existing users of the TV band. So while the second switchover might prove financially successful for some European countries, and relatively easy to implement in countries like Belgium and Holland, a second switch in the UK has the potential to be a complicated and expensive folly that actually detracts from the national wealth rather than adding to it through a second dividend.

Fraser Edwards, Business Development, Wireless Division

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