Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
So farewell, then, analogue TVsignal strength
Monday 29 June, 2015, 17:34 - Broadcasting, Licensed, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
A year ago Wireless Waffle posited the notion that we were beginning to see the end for digital terrestrial television. Just over a week ago in Geneva, the ITU celebrated the date on which, in Region 1 (Europe and the Middle East) and Iran, protection of interference for analogue television services ceases, and digital is the only protected broadcasting service. This 'celebration' presented the position from across the region where there is an extremely wide range of 'success' from countries who have already switched off analogue television, to those who are yet to launch any digital services at all. Of the 119 countries that form Region 1, only around 40 have completed switch-over - hardly a 'success' to be 'celebrated'.

digital switch over status

Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, Franšois Rancy, explains the situation.



Let's stop fooling ourselves - digital terrestrial television (DTT) as a platform for delivery of everyday TV, is already on its last legs in many countries, or at least it has a bad case of arthritis. Like many of today's technologies, it is a fixed point in an evolving market and eventually it will be overtaken. Analogue television had its purpose, but is beginning to be phased out. Digital terrestrial television will do likewise, no matter how strongly bodies such as the EBU argue that it will remain important until 2025 and beyond.

When DTT was launched, its ability to offer dozens of television channels, and use less spectrum and less electricity made great strides forwards. But the digital world is moving ever faster and DTT is beginning to lag behind and will surely, over the next 10 years, become the lame horse of television broadcasting.

Why? Here's 5 good reasons:
  • Televisions are getting bigger and resolution is improving. When DTT launched, standard definition television was the norm. The norm now is becoming High Definition television, which requires double the bandwidth of standard definition, meaning that the DTT platform can now carry only half as many channels. With the move to Ultra High Definition, or 4K, each television transmitter will, at best, be able to carry 2 (and in the future, as video compression improves, maybe as many as 3) channels. Thus the wide range of content currently available on DTT will slowly wane such that even with a half-dozen multiplexes, the DTT platform will only carry 15 to 18 TV channels. Compare this with the hundreds that cable, satellite and even the internet will offer.
  • What's more, the availability of these alternative delivery platforms is increasing. Satellite, of course, provides near universal coverage already, and though it would be fair to say that the coverage of cable TV networks is not growing significantly, the delivery of television over IP networks (IPTV) such as BT Vision in the UK is only dependent on the availability of a broadband internet connection and most countries are investing heavily to make these as ubiquitous as possible.
  • Whilst household screens are getting bigger, not all viewing is on such big screens. Watching TV on tablets and smartphones is becoming commonplace and although DTT proponents argue that DTT receivers could be built into such devices to allow them to view their transmissions, the manufacturers of such devices appear reluctant to do so. The connection to such devices is WiFi, 3G, 4G or even 5G but not DTT.
  • Although national television broadcasters (such as the BBC, ARD or France Televisions) still account for a very high proportion of viewing, an increasing amount of this viewing is non-linear, that is to say that it is not live, but catch-up through platforms such as the BBC's iPlayer. Certain content will always remain linear due to its immediacy, such as sports events and communal television such as talent shows and soap operas where the ability of all to share a common experience is important. But the use of non-linear television for other programmes such as factual programmes or dramas to allow them to be watched at the convenience of viewers will surely become the standard.
  • Finally, the take-up of over-the-top services which do not rely on standard broadcast content but which have a catalogue of material which viewers can watch at their discretion (e.g. Netflix or Hulu) are starting to become the preferred way to relax and watch a programme. Watch what you want, when you want, without being beholden a particular broadcaster's choice of schedule of what you should watch at a particular time of day.
dtt rabbit earsProponents of DTT argue that:
  • it can continue to operate in disaster situations (but no-one will have any power to watch TV, though they may well have batteries in their radios);
  • that it is the cheapest way of delivering mass TV (this is singularly dependent on the number of viewers that use the platform - fewer viewers = higher cost per viewer);
  • that it is the only platform under national control (e.g. that it is not owned by nasty foreigners that might turn the service off, such as the normally docile Luxembourgeous that own the Astra satellites);
  • and so forth...
All these arguments do hold water, but so does a colander, for a short time.

Is it really likely that, in ten years from now, we will all still be sitting down at 10pm to watch the news over terrestrial television, or that at 10:17 after we have finished watching the ninth season of House Of Cards on Netflix, we launch our custom news channel which provides a set of news reports tailored to our interests. As E. J. Thribb would no doubt have it:
tv service goneSo. Farewell then
Digital
Terrestrial Television

Your days were
numbered

With ones and naughts

And now you
are
but naught

At one
with
your analogue
predecessor.

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ITU spies new training opportunitiessignal strength
Thursday 4 June, 2015, 15:04 - Spectrum Management, Much Ado About Nothing
Posted by Administrator
Regular readers of Wireless Waffle will be aware that last year we discovered that, like many in the telecommunications industry, the ITU seemed to have a rather poor grasp of maths. Now it seems that their training academy has an equally poor grasp of English!

The ITU run a training academy (the 'ITU academy') which provides training in telecommunications, spectrum management and many other topics. The academy is made up of many contributors but is centrally co-ordinated through the ITU who advertise the available courses via their web-site. The academy is run by the development sector of the ITU (ITU-D) whereas the previously identified mathematical errors were part of the radiocommunications sector (ITU-R). One would hope, amongst all other things, that an organisation providing training would at least be able to string a sentence together, but it appears that even this small feat is beyond the capabilities of the poor (or should that read 'almost bankrupt'), old ITU.

So what is this glaring error? See for yourself (click the image for a larger version)...

itu academy for spies

The above screen-shot is taken directly from the front-page of the English version of the ITU Academy web-site. It appears that attending maths or English classes is not a requirement for a position at the Union.

Of course, there is another explanation for this spelling mistake, and that is that the ITU academy is now training spies in the art of surveillance. Maybe the ITU have figured out that more money can be made in assisting people who want to become the next generation of 'spooks' than in providing training courses on less popular topics such as licensing, frequency planning and numbering. After all, there are plenty of better qualified training providers who do a good job of delivering courses on these specialist topics.

So what will they do next? Provide funding for movies into spying...? Now there's an idea!

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Grotesquely Skewed Mathematical Analysessignal strength
Friday 22 May, 2015, 07:48 - Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
You may remember in this very month of last year, that Wireless waffle reported that various studies concerning the demand for radio spectrum for mobile services were replete with rather significant and obvious mathematical errors. It seems that these types of error which serve to highlight the poor plight of the mobile operators and their search for new spectrum may be systematic. This time it is the turn of Frontier Economics and their studies 'Economic assessment of C-band reallocation in the Arab States region' and 'Economic assessment of C-band reallocation in Africa'.

In them, they try and calculate the price of spectrum in a number of countries by considering the differences between the population density, average revenue per user (ARPU) and 3G penetration with a benchmark value derived from the price paid at auction in other countries. So where have they gone wrong?

feeding ducksImagine you are trying to calculate the overall appetite for bread to some ducks in a pond. The data you have tells you the density of ducks in the pond, the preference of the ducks for bread, and the area of the pond. Clearly:
  • if the density of ducks increases, the appetite for bread will increase in direct proportion (that is to say that if the density of ducks doubles, then the appetite for bread will double);
  • if the preference of the ducks for bread increases, similarly the appetite will increase in direct proportion, and
  • if the area of the pond increases, the appetite for bread will increase, and again it will be directly proportional.
If you want to take all these factors into account to determine the overall change in appetite, you just multiply them together. So if the density of ducks doubles, the preference for bread doubles and the area of the pond doubles, then the appetite for bread will increase by 800% (200% x 200% x 200%). And as a check on this logic, then if any of the factors is zero (i.e. there is no pond, no ducks in the pond, or the ducks don't like bread), then their appetite will be zero. Check!

So it may come as a surprise, that in their studies, Frontier Economics consider a similar set of factors but instead of multiplying them together, they average them as page 16 of their report on Africa demonstrates:
We first calculate the country's population density, 3G penetration rate and ARPU as a percentage of the auction sample's average population density, 3G penetration rate and ARPU respectively. We then take a simple average of these three proportions to obtain the final adjustment factor.

frontier calculationsSo if the ducks have the same preference for bread as the benchmark (e.g. the 'auction sample') and are just as densely packed, but the size of the pond is zero, the overall appetite should, of course, be zero. But if these factors are averaged, the result will not be zero. The average of 100%, 100% and 0% is... oh, come on now, the maths is pretty easy... 66%. Therefore, according to the economists at Frontier, the appetite for bread by NO ducks, is two-thirds of the benchmark value. And if the density, preference and area of the pond double and thus (as shown above) the appetite should increase by 800%, Frontier would no doubt claim that it only increases by a factor of 200% (the average of 200%, 200% and 200%, as it goes).

Of course there is an argument to say that the factors that the report is trying to apply are not mutually exclusive so that multiplying them is not the right approach. But whatever the right approach is, taking the average is unlikely to be one of them.

frontier comic onesMaybe Frontier Economics flunked the statistics module in their maths exams. This would tend to be hinted at by the slogan on their web-site:
We hope you'll find us a little different

What they mean by 'little' and 'different' may, of course, be in themselves a little different from someone else's understanding. Alternatively, the fact that they were being paid to do the calculations by the GSMA meant that they did them in a way that was 'a little different'. In either case a little different would seems to mean 'a little wrong'. So how does their slogan read now?

Whatever the cause, it seems that the mobile industry is replete with regulators, consultants and industry bodies who have forgotten how to use a calculator properly. As for the GSMA who should surely have checked for such glaringly self-evident miscalculated averages before publishing the reports, perhaps grotesquely skewed mathematical analyses are to their taste?
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Adj° FM Radiosignal strength
Tuesday 28 April, 2015, 15:58 - Broadcasting, Licensed, Spectrum Management
Posted by Administrator
norway wave goodbyeThe Norwegian Communications Authority (NKOM) recently announced that FM radio is to be closed-down in Norway by the end of 2017. The closure will begin at the north of the country, and spread southwards. National broadcaster NRK will wave goodbye to FM radio first, followed by major commercial broadcasters. Some smaller, local broadcasters, will be allowed to continue broadcasting on FM but the rest will continue only on DAB or on other digital platforms (such as television or online).

The switch-over in Norway, follows a similar logic as that used by Ofcom in the UK (as previously discussed by Wireless Waffle). There are a number of specific criteria that the Norwegian government said had to be met for the switch-off to occur:
  • NRK's digital services have to have the same coverage as their FM service, and national commercial services need to cover 90% of the country.
  • There has to be an affordable solution for listening in cars.
  • At least 50% of listeners have to be listening to digital radio every day.
The regulator claims that these targets have been met but broadcaster claim that they haven't. The Norwegian Local Radio Association claims that only 19% of listeners use DAB and that other 'digital' listening is through other platforms. They also argue that an 'all digital Norway' would mean that any tourists driving from a neighbouring country who don't have a DAB radio would be unable to receive local traffic and weather information and that this could prove dangerous. Of course, if those tourists hired a car in Norway, presumably this problem would not occur.

radio snowBroadcasters also fear that driving people away from FM onto, for example, online radio would open up a much wider world of competition from the likes of Spotify. In this respect, FM radio represents a way of limiting listener choice and reducing competition so it is perhaps no wonder that broadcasters are keen to ensure the longevity of the medium.

Norway was one of the first countries to complete the switch from analogue to digital television and is no doubt hoping that it's bold decision to close FM radio will give it similar kudos. However there were good reasons for a digital television switch-over, including the greater choice and higher quality recption that digital offered and, perhaps most importantly from the perspective of the regulator and government, the ability to free up some radio spectrum which could then be sold of to mobile operators for lots of money. Wireless Waffle estimates that the sale of the digital dividend spectrum in the auction that took place in 2013 raised around GBP75 million, which is not that much compared to the very large prices paid in other countries.

nkom trailblazingThe FM band is a different proposition though, because other than for radio broadcasting, there are no other (harmonised) uses for the band. It could be used for mobile radio (e.g. walkie talkies) but there aren't any available that operate in that frequency range. It could be used to extend the aeronautical band (which begins at 108 MHz). It could be used for some, as yet uninvented wireless service. But unless neighbouring countries (and the local FM broadcasters in Norway who continue to use the band) also switch off their transmitters, the levels of interference from these stations would be too high to make the spectrum of any real value.

So what is the real benefit of switching to digital? For Norway, perhaps, a chance to be a trailblazer. For any other country, perhaps none at all.
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