Law 

The Czech Republic has switched to the new DVB-T2 broadcasting standard

After less than a year, the process of switching from DVB-T to the new DVB-T2 broadcasting standard has successfully ended in the Czech Republic. However, what does this actually mean for viewers? For example, they will be able to watch more TV programmes. Televisions can expand their programme offers and broadcast their programmes in a higher standard. At the same time, the construction of 5G mobile networks can begin.

At the end of October 2020, the last terrestrial digital transmitters in DVB-T standard were switched off. In doing so, the Czech Republic fulfilled its international commitment and released the 700 MHz television band for fifth generation (5G) mobile networks. A substantial part of the radio spectrum in the UHF frequency band (470–790 MHz) is used for terrestrial television broadcasting. However, the range of the UHF frequency band is gradually decreasing.

First, the 800 MHz band was released in favour of mobile services, and now it is the 700 MHz band’s turn. The following step was the auction of these frequencies, which was a very quick process. The frequency auction ended on 13 November and raised almost CZK 5.6 billion for the state.

Despite the complications caused by the pandemic, the change in the technological standard of television broadcasting went smoothly and met all expectations. Viewers have the opportunity to watch more TV programmes. Televisions can expand their programme offer and broadcast their programmes in a higher standard. At the same time, the construction of 5G mobile networks can begin. As a bonus, the state has received additional funds for the state budget, which will certainly come in handy nowadays.

Switching to the new second generation broadcasting standard (DVB-T2) ended the first era of digital television broadcasting (DVB-T), which we have had since 2010. Most of the existing actors also participated in the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. With their experience of the first transition, they significantly contributed to the whole process going smoothly and without complications.

The most important thing is that the switch to DVB-T2 has practically not affected TV viewers at all. Household coverage remained the same and everyone had plenty of time to prepare for this change. For a large part of the population, this meant buying new receivers or set-top boxes or to re-tune the antenna. The necessary information reached almost everyone thanks to several information campaigns of the majority of those involved.

We also cannot forget the unique certification project with round stickers DVB-T2 VERIFIED, thanks to which people could verify that they are buying a receiver capable of receiving a new standard already two years before the start of the transition.

How did it all start?

One of the main reasons for releasing such a significant part of the frequency band was the need to implement technologies for the development of high-speed internet or fifth generation networks. In 2015, the World Radiocommunication Conference decided to completely release the 700 MHz mobile service frequency band, called International Mobile Technology. In its Radio Spectrum Policy, the European Union first envisaged adopting a coordinated approach across the Union to make the 700 MHz band available by the end of 2020. The key Pan-European deadline for the release of the 700 MHz band was contained in the Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council (EU) on the use of the 470–790 MHz frequency band in the Union (the “EU Decision”).

A harmonised approach to spectrum release has not worked very well. The use of the UHF band for television broadcasting needs is not equally intensive in all EU countries. The use of this platform varies considerably from country to country (e.g. Germany 10%, Austria 11%). For example, Germany and Austria were in favour of the accelerated release of the 700 MHz band and transitioned to the new broadcasting standard in 2017, while other countries (e.g. Italy) wanted to make the transition in 2021 and later. In view of these circumstances, a compromise deadline of 30 June 2020 finally came into the EU Decision, on the grounds that the deadline could be exceeded for well-founded reasons.

In connection with the international requirements for the release of the 700 MHz band, the Government of the Czech Republic adopted a Strategy for the Development of Terrestrial Digital Television Broadcasting. The strategy defined the basic principles for the release of the 700 MHz band. As its objective, the strategy set the long-term sustainability of the digital terrestrial broadcasting platform.

In order to maintain terrestrial digital television broadcasting, a timely transition to the technologically more advanced DVB-T2/HEVC broadcasting standard was needed.

The main precondition for implementing the transition was the adoption of a legal framework that would set out the conditions for the transition and provide legal certainty to all actors. This became an amendment to the Electronic Communications Act – Act No. 252/2017 Coll. (“Digital Amendment”). In its transitional provisions, the Digital Amendment determined the legal basis for the issuance of the Technical Transition Plan in the form of a government regulation and set the deadline of 1 February 2021 as the latest deadline for the termination of terrestrial television broadcasting in the DVB-T standard.

At the same time, the requirement to establish transition networks in the DVB-T2 standard for the temporary operation of simultaneous television broadcasting was enshrined in the Digital Amendment. Transition networks have been used to ensure that the coverage range will stay the same during the transition and that network switching will have a minimum negative impact on the viewers.

How was switching to DVB-T2 carried out?

Terrestrial television networks were switched on a transmitter-by-transmitter basis. The gradual switching took place according to the timetable contained in the Technical Transition Plan. This Plan set the deadlines for switching off individual transmitters. Due to the European requirement for the release of radio frequencies in the 700 MHz band, a deadline of 30 June 2020 was set as the end of digital terrestrial television broadcasting in DVB-T.

Network switching began in November 2019. The outbreak of the pandemic unexpectedly dramatized the entire transition process. In March, the government hastily amended the Technical Transition Plan and temporarily suspended the process. After the first spring pandemic wave, it updated the switching schedule in May and adjusted the final date of termination of DVB-T broadcasting to 31 October 2020. The last transmitters were switched at the end of October and the entire transition was successfully completed. This process eventually took almost a year.

The future of terrestrial television broadcasting

Changing the broadcasting standard was certainly an opportunity for other platforms to gain new viewers. The result of the transition has shown us that digital terrestrial broadcasting has a future. Most of the audience remained loyal to terrestrial television broadcasting. It remains the strongest television reception platform in the Czech Republic and is used by approximately 55% of Czech households.

Digital terrestrial television broadcasting plays a unique and important role in the Czech Republic. It has the broadest coverage and its signal covers more than 99% of households. Thanks to the extensive network of TV transmitters and transmitting aerials, the signal is of high quality. At the same time, it is the only free platform for receiving free-to-air TV broadcasting.

The Czech state guarantees radio frequencies for the dissemination of digital terrestrial television broadcasting until 31 December 2030. For the next ten years, existing players in the market will have the opportunity to show what options this platform has and whether it will remain attractive to the majority of the population.

The article was published on lupa.cz on 19 November 2020. (edited)

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