National digital terrestrial television broadcasting networks have been in operation in Hungary since 2008; Antenna Hungária Zrt. obtained the operating licence for these for a period of 12 years, and utilises them through the MinDig TV service family. In Hungary, five networks enabling DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial), i.e. digital terrestrial video transmission are currently in operation between 470 MHz and 790 MHz (in the UHF band), on which the programme of 12 free and 47 paid television channels, and the 4 public service radio stations are transmitted by the operator.
The operating license of the current networks expires on 5 September 2020 – the related subscriber agreements are adjusted to this as well –, but the authority initiates the tender procedure already, a year and a half before expiry, to ensure that the reallocation of frequencies does not cause any interruptions for either the future operator, or the viewers, allowing sufficient time for preparation. The winner of the tender may deploy and operate five networks for a period of 12 years from 6 September 2020. The NMHH imposes on the bidders the condition that they should provide unencrypted and continuous access to the public service television and radio contents to all citizens, with the same quality and for free on the new networks to come as well. Pursuant to the Media Act, to provide free access to the commercial television stations with national availability, an agreement between the winning bidder and the media service providers shall be required, as in the past.
Re-tendering is an international obligation as well
A part of the current networks uses the 700 MHz frequency band (between 694–790 MHz), but based on the directives of the European Union – in line with the objectives set out by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the National Roadmap –, this should be freed by the Hungarian Infocommunications Authority as well by 2020 for the coming 5G developments. However, due to technological advancement, it is feasible now for the NMHH to keep prescribing the deployment of five national digital television broadcasting networks – similarly to the present case – in the UHF frequency band without 700 MHz (470–694 MHz) in the tender.
Room is left for 5G developments even with more channels or better reception quality
Three of the new networks will already be more modern networks that comply with the DVB-T2 standard, which may allow either access to more television channels, or better reception of the existing ones in the future. In addition, the 700 MHz band being “emptied” plays a key role in the sale of frequencies for mobile purposes also planned for this year, and this band will also become usable for 5G developments, the technologies of the future. The subject of the tender being launched does not only cover the usage of frequencies required for the operation of the networks, but also the provision of broadcasting and ancillary media services to the users, broadcasters, media service providers.
Continuity of the reception of unencrypted channels is a tender condition
In the tender, it is a priority objective of the NMHH to keep the viewers’ interests in view. The winner of the tender should use a solution that does not entail a financial burden, intervention for the population watching television with free reception, and does not require purchasing a new receiver device, i.e. no one has to replace their current DVB-T set-top-box or television. The range of subscription services on the more modern networks shall be determined by the winner based on their own business decision, and they shall provide the DVB-T2 set-top-box for these – for free or for a fee. However, this is a market-based service – just as now –, as opposed to the unencrypted channels. Therefore, the rearrangement of frequency bands is obligate, but the changes entailed by this bring clear development in the fields of both digital television and solutions based on fifth-generation Internet networks.
In relation to the draft documentation published for review now, the NMHH also organises a professional consultation for the market players, which is expected to be on March 20th, while the final tender notice in April. According to the plans, the authority may already announce a winner in June. The prospective operator will have to deploy the two DVB-T networks corresponding to the current ones, and ensure continuous access to public service channels without a subscription on them until 5 September 2020. The winner will have six more months to launch the three more modern networks hosting the subscription services, but their realisation as soon as possible is an important evaluation criterion already in the draft of the documentation published on March 6th, i.e. it is a common interest – of the authority and the operator – to make also the encrypted channels available as soon as possible after the beginning of September next year.