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Ultra HD TV or mobile data: The fight for spectrum in Korea

Lawmakers in South Korea are siding with using the 700MHz frequency for nationwide Ultra HD broadcasts, instead of using the spectrum to relieve congested mobile traffic.

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Carriers such as KT are losing the battle for the 700MHz band in South Korea to broadcast networks who want to use it for UHD content. Aloysius Low/CNET

Despite protests from South Korea's mobile phone carriers, the country's lawmakers are likely to earmark its 700MHz spectrum for terrestrial Ultra HD TV broadcasting, as reported during a public hearing last week at the National Assembly in Seoul.

Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and the Korea Communications Commission held a public hearing to discuss how to allocate the 700MHz frequency -- used by mobile networks in many countries -- throughout the nation and heard two opposing arguments.

Korea's three major TV stations, KBS, MBC and SBS, argued that 108MHz spectrum of the 700MHz band has to be dedicated to providing nationwide Ultra HD programming. Mobile carriers, on the other hand, claim that the frequency would be better suited to relieving congested traffic in their network bands.

Representing the broadcasters, Professor Lee Sang Woon of South Seoul University reasoned that it's in the interest of the public to utilize the 700MHz frequency for terrestrial broadcasting.

According to Lee, providing the public with free UHD broadcasting will let them opt out of expensive cable subscription rates and lessen the digital divide between the rich and poor. "UHD broadcasting should be universal, all viewers have the right to enjoy it," Lee said.

Professor Hong In-Ki of Kyung Hee University disputed that, claiming that mobile traffic congestion is the more urgent issue.

"Only 6.8 percent of households in Korea currently regularly watch terrestrial broadcasting content and of those people, the number of households that have UHD-capable televisions are minimal. The need for better telecommunication services is more universal and individualized, with more than 57 million subscribers in the country," he said.

Hong also cited the difference in potential income generation between broadcasting and telecommunication: 3.7 trillion won ($3.4 billion) for TV and 54 trillion won ($49 billion) for mobile, according to third-party research.

Although the public hearing ended with officials stating that they would take more time to review the arguments discussed, an overwhelming majority of politicians present at the hearing sided with supporting television stations.