What is the 4G Freeview Fail?

Latest news for the 4G Freeview Fail4G mobile services will interfere with some Freeview broadcasts when they arrive on the 800MHz radio band from Spring/Summer 2013. This is the 4G Freeview Fail.

The 4G Freeview Fail could prevent hundreds of thousands of homes from getting Freeview, forcing them to install signal filters if they’re to continue watching Freeview.

The (previous) government may be to blame for the poor planning that's lead to the clash of Freeview and 4G, but it's the mobile networks who will be stumping up the cash to fund a company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited.

4G Freeview Fail: What does it mean for me?
Most 4G Freeview problems should be fixed by a filter like this

AT800.tv - the public name for Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (formerly known as MitCo) - will oversee the provision of 4G signal filters which people can connect to their Freeview aerial to help tune out 4G interference.

They're already available for under £10, but if you've got an amplifier in the loft or on your aerial and you need to get a man in to fix it, the cost of installing 4G signal filters should be covered by the provision of £50 vouchers which will be handed out to the homes that need them.

UK minister for culture, communications and creative industries, Ed Vaizey, has announced: “Only 900,000 are likely to rely on [Freeview] for their primary viewing, so in effect, fewer than a million people will be directly affected. The rest will be viewing television on satelite [sic], cable or broadband.”

With this in mind it’s likely at this stage that vouchers will be made available for 900,000 homes, despite around 2.3 million homes affected.

4G Freeview Fail: How will it affect Freeview?

Retunes

The first problem is that some Freeview signals already use the lower end of the 800MHz band, so they will have to be moved before 4G networks can launch on these frequencies.

The affected areas will be notified in advance, and are currently going through a retune similar to the Digital Switchover. No-one will need a new Freeview box at this point, although some people may need a new aerial.

Adjacent interference

The second problem is that the international engineering teams which assigned the 4G signals to 800MHz didn't leave a large enough 'guard interval' between the bottom of the 800MHz band and the top of the 700MHz band, because radio signals always overspill a little from their assigned frequencies.

No-one knows why, but the suspicion is that they were all mobile communications experts, and no-one bothered to ask a broadcast TV expert to check the details.

Mobile phone signals are likely to leak across from 800MHz and interfere with some TV at the top end of 700MHz, and in some cases it can be fixed with a simple filter, but in others the interference will be too strong, and TVs will lose some of their Freeview channels (but not all of them).

Out-of-channel interference

We've all heard the clicks and pops when someone is talking on a microphone and there's a mobile phone in their pocket. The microphone wire acts as an aerial and can pick up all kinds of frequencies if they're strong enough.

Digital TV boxes aren't designed to filter out interference from devices using the 800MHz band, so even Virgin Media cable boxes could be affected if there's a 4G dongle or handset very close by.

Fortunately, tests have revealed that this is unlikely to be as serious as was feared at first, unless a 4G device is placed very close to the digital TV box and it's using full power.

4G Freeview Fail: What does it mean for me?

4G Freeview Fail: What if I still can’t get Freeview after installing a filter?

Ed Vaizey has announced that there will be assistance for homes to switch to 'free-to-view satellite' (Freesat) or 'cable TV' (Virgin Media) if they can’t get Freeview after 4G arrives.

In cases where dishes can’t be fixed to homes or cable isn’t available (Ofcom estimates 500) it instead 'may be appropriate to look at alternative ways of restoring good DTT reception, up to a limit of £10,000 per household'. 

For those not in this category, it’s estimated that at the most, 38,000 homes will be offered Virgin Media or Freesat.

4G Freeview Fail: How much will it cost to fix?

Fortunately the taxpayer isn't footing the bill for this problem, but it will be reflected somewhere in mobile phone bills.

Standard Freesat installation costs £80 and the basic Freesat HD set-top box costs £70; £150 altogether.

Virgin Media’s standard installation costs £49.95 for cable TV, but is sometimes waived in broadband bundle deals. The standard V HD Box is also free when taken with any Virgin Media TV pack.

We’ve broken down the costs of Freesat and Virgin Media here in 4G Freeview Fail: What are the alternatives?

AT800.tv has made it easy by deciding to send filters to every home in affected areas, and we'll assume that buying in bulk will get the price of a filter (about £7 each) down to something like £5 each.

For argument’s sake, lets say that half of the homes which can't be fixed with a filter will take Virgin Media and the other Freesat. There’s currently no indication which of these affected homes could or couldn’t get cable, so we’re using a 50/50 split as an example. Here we go:

38,000 homes ÷ 2 = 19,000 homes

Homes taking Virgin Media: £49.95 install fee x 19,000 = £949,050

Homes taking Freesat: £150 install fee x 19,000 = £2,850,000

Add this to the total cost of homes getting a £50 voucher for a 4G filter (minus those eligible for Virgin Media and Freesat) and the money for those 500 homes in need of extra funding and the total pile works out as:

Homes needing a 4G signal filter: £5 x 861,500 = £4,307,500

Homes needing extra funding: £10,000 x 500 = £5,000,000

This works out at a grand total of £13,106,550

There's also the question of how many people will need to use their £50 vouchers to get help with installing their filters, which could add an extra (£50 x 861,500) £43,075,000 to the bill!

The total pot being stumped up to cover this mess is £180 million, and Ofcom's own assessment suggests that around £8 million may be needed for platform changes (switching to Freesat or Virgin Media) with up to £100 million for the provision of filters and public information, leaving £16 million for scheme overheads. 

This is up from the estimated figures published in May 2012, in which it was thought that just £20 million would be needed for filters and installation.

4G Freeview Fail: Which mobile networks will affect Freeview?

EE (incorporating Orange and T-Mobile) has already launched 4G on the 1800MHz band. This is entirely separate to the 800MHz band which Freeview currently uses and therefore will not interfere with it.

As the 4G auction kicks off in the UK other networks will use the 800MHz band for their 4G services, which will interfere with Freeview reception in some areas.

Currently, the UK mobile networks use three frequency bands - 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz - to broadcast 2G voice and 3G data services, but Ofcom is currently considering a plan to allow them to use this for 4G as well.

As a condition of the Orange and T-Mobile merger, it's expected that Three will be gifted a portion of the 1800MHz band to use for 4G. Again, this will not interfere with Freeview.

Ofcom's 4G auction has allocated parts of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum for 4G services, and it's the 800MHz portion which will cause problems - EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 have all won a chunk.

4G retunes: What do all the PSB2 and COM6 letters and numbers mean?

These refer to the Freeview multiplexes - groups of channels and services. For example, BBC One is on the PSB1 multiplex and Channel 4 HD is on the PSB3 multiplex.

For the retune taking place on November 14, we’ve listed which TV channels are broadcast in each multiplex affected:

PSB1: BBC One, BBC One NI, BBC One Scot, BBC One Wales, BBC Two, BBC Two NI, BBC Two Scot, BBC Two Wales, BBC Three, BBC ALBA, BBC Four, CBBC Channel, CBeebies, BBC News, BBC Parliament, BBC Red Button.

PSB2: ITV1, ITV1 Wales, STV, UTV, Channel 4, S4/C, Channel 5, ITV 2, Channel 4 (in Wales), More Four, E4, ITV+1, STV+1, UTV+1, Rabbit, Gay Rabbit, U105 (Radio).

PSB3: BBC One HD, BBC One NI HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD, STV HD, UTV HD, Channel 4 HD, S4C Clirlun, The Space.

COM6: Film 4, 4Music, Yesterday, VIVA, Ideal World, ITV4, QVC Beauty, Rocks & Co 1, Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2, 4seven, ARGOS TV, Al-Jazeera, Russia Today, ADULT smileTV2, ADULT Babestn, ADULT Section.

How do I retune my Freeview box?

Freeview HD products will automatically retune, or prompt you to begin retuning. Other Freeview boxes or TVs may need to be manually re-tuned using the Menu button and going to the Settings or Tuning menu.

There's more information here on How to re-tune your Freeview digital TV receiver.

News stories about the 4G Freeview Fail

Free filters for Sky, Freesat and Virgin homes in affected areas

AT800.tv: "It is appropriate to provide information and a filter to all homes our model predicts may suffer from interference."4G-Freeview interference filters will be handed out to all homes in affected areas - not just those relying on Freeview.

Interference-fixing body AT800.tv has admitted it can’t tell homes which rely on Freeview from those that use Sky, Freesat or Virgin for their main TV.

The company - funded by the winners of the 800MHz 4G spectrum auction - will have to send out plug-in aerial filters to around 2.3 million homes instead of about 900,000.

The free filters will be a bonus for satellite and cable home with secondary TVs tuning into Freeview - but goes against AT800.tv’s stated aim of helping only homes that use Freeview on their primary TV.

A spokesman for AT800.tv said: “Given the potential issues around attempting to discriminate between homes that have Freeview as their primary source and those without - information that does not exist in the public domain - and given that every license-paying home has a right to receive free-to-air telly, it is appropriate to provide information and a filter to all homes our model predicts may suffer from interference.”

AT800.tv is the public face of Digital Mobile Spectrum Ltd, set up by the mobile phone operators as a condition of entering the 4G auction.

Their problem is that it’s cheaper to hand out the filters to anyone who might be affected than it is to survey every home - and Sky or Virgin Media subscriber information is protected by law.

Instead, Ofcom calculates the areas where viewers near 4G base stations are likely to suffer interference to Freeview signals at the high end of the 700MHz spectrum.

On the positive side, bulk-ordering filters should help to reduce their cost to AT800.tv and to retailers selling them to homeowners, businesses and other groups.

AT800.tv will start contacting people in affected areas as the operators roll out their 4G networks from this Spring onwards, but the full process will stretch into 2014.

February 12, 2013

AT800.tv launches to help more than 2m interference victims

4G Freeview Fail: AT8000.tv launches to help more than 2m interference victimsMore than two million British homes affected by the 4G mobile interference to Freeview can now head to an official website for help and advice.

AT800.tv has been set up by mobile phone operators Everything Everywhere, Three, O2 and Vodafone under the guise of Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited.

The most popular fix will be a filter on TV aerials to block the 4G signals, although a ‘small minority’ of people will have to switch to Freesat, Virgin Media or Sky - and will get help with this.

Simon Beresford-Wylie, the new chief of DMSL, said: “I look forward to working closely with broadcasters and mobile network operators to ensure everyone continues to be able to receive their current TV service. 

“DMSL plans to pre-empt the majority of potential interference issues caused by 4G at 800 MHz and existing TV services. We’re focused on being able to provide anyone who may be affected with the information and equipment they’ll need to ensure they continue to receive free-to-air TV.”

DMSL was set up to counter the interference that will be caused to Freeview by 4G using the 800MHz frequency band when services launch from May this year.

The mobile operators are currently bidding for the 800MHz frequencies, so AT800.tv’s final owners will depend on who wins the auction.

DMSL said it hopes to contact potential victims in advance and supply filters, plus contact details for installers who will be able to fit them above any aerial splitters or amplifiers.

They will also follow the Digital UK model of working with charities to identify the elderly, vulnerable and disabled so they can get extra attention.

However, businesses which use Freeview won’t get any help and will be expected to buy and install their own filters.

February 11, 2013

Wenvoe in South Wales kicks off 800MHz clearances for 2013 

4G Freeview fail: Wenvoe in South Wales kicks off 800MHz clearances for 2013South Wales homes using the Wenvoe Freeview transmitter are retuning today as TV transmissions continue to make way for 4G mobile broadband.

The government is moving Freeview broadcasts from UHF channels 61 and 62 to empty the 800MHz frequency range, which is being auctioned for 4G.

Wales is worst-affected, with a jigsaw of transmitters and relays covering the valleys, and North Wales saw busy retune action in November 2012.

South Wales is next, and began last night when the Arqiva B multiplex - which carries Film4, ITV4 and Yesterday - moved from UHF channel 49 to 39+ (these aren’t Freeview channel numbers - your programme guide won’t change).

March 13 will see retunes at seven relay transmitters under the Kilvey main transmitter, and the 27 Wenvoe relay transmitters. Each has a different UHF channel assignment.

March 27 is the next date, when south-west England’s Mendip transmitter is re-tuned from channel 61 to 49, along with its 30 relays, as well as the Bampton and Culm Valley relays for the Stockland Hill transmitter.

April 10 will see retunes in the north-west England, the West Midlands and North Yorkshire, affecting the Emley Moor, Winter Hill and Wrekin transmitter groups.

April 17 is the first Scottish retune day, for the Selkirk, Angus, Rosneath and Torosay transmitter groups, then Rumster Forest on April 24.

May 1’s retunes cover Tacolneston in Norfolk, then May 15 sees Oliver’s Mount and Rowridge transmitters re-tuned, covering Salisbury, the Isle of Wight and Scarborough.

On May 22, it’s the turn of Carmel group in Wales, Huntshaw Cross in north Devon and the last two Kilvey Hill and Wenvoe relays.

From May to October 2013 there will be further retunes in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, the east Midlands, Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, the Shetland and Orkney Islands, north east Scotland and the Western Isles.

We’ll keep up with regular reminders, and Digital UK keeps an updated list of 4G 800MHz Freeview clearance dates.

January 24, 2013

Registered Digital Institute logoTV aerial riggers train to tackle 4G interference

Aerial installers can tune up on how to beat Freeview interference from 4G mobile signals with an online training course.

The Registered Digital Institute (RDI) will launch its first 4G E-learning Module in early December 2012, to help installers quickly understand the overall situation both nationally and locally.

RDI training and skills director Steve Cannon said: “We are all aware the interference that 4G is predicted to bring is likely to be the next big thing for our industry.

“We have produced an e-learning module that defines as clearly as possible, what 4G is, what the impact will be and what our members need to do to provide solutions to the interference issues that it will create.

“4G has generated so many questions in 2012 but very few authoritative, reliable answers. We trust that our members will feel that this module fulfills their requirements regarding this very important subject.”

The course will cover the impact of potential interference problems on domestic and commercial systems, and evaluate what solutions will become available to remedy problems in the coming months.

It’s been designed with Digital UK, which managed the UK’s digital switchover, and communications regulator Ofcom, and is accredited under the blue Digital Tick scheme of the Registered Digital Installers Licensing Body.

November 26, 2012 

November 14 Freeview retune for the north west, north Wales and Isle of Man

Tomorrow sees a drastic retune for Freeview viewers in the north west of England, north Wales and the Isle of Man as more spectrum is cleared to make way for the arrival of 4G on the 800MHz frequency.

Though commercial launches on 4G on 800MHz aren’t expected to land until May-June 2013, Ofcom is busy making way for when it does, necessitating large scale Freeview retunes in the various parts of the UK.

From the Beary Peark transmitter on the Isle of Man, to Waunfawr in Wales, homes tuned to the following transmitters will need to retune:

  • Beary Peark (Isle of Man): PSB3 moving C50 to C40
  • Bethesda: PSB2 staying on C60 but offset down by 166kHz
  • Coed Derw: PSB2 moving C50 to C40
  • Douglas (IoM): PSB2 staying on C60 but offset down by 166kHz
  • Glyn Ceiriog: PSB2 moving C61 to C49
  • Glyndyfrdwy: PSB1 moving C62- to C50
  • Jurby (IoM): PSB3 moving C50 to C40
  • Laxey (IoM): PSB3 moving C50 to C40
  • Llandderfel: PSB1 moving C62- to C50
  • Llanddona: COM6 moving C50 to C40; PSB2 staying on C60 but offset down by 166kHz
  • Llandecwyn: PSB1 moving C61 to C49
  • Llanengan: PSB1 moving C61 to C49
  • Llangollen: PSB2 moving C61 to C49
  • Llanuwchllyn: PSB3 moving C50 to C40
  • Moel-Y-Parc: PSB2 moving C49+ to C39+
  • Port St Mary (IoM): PSB3 moving C50 to C40
  • Ramsey (IoM): PSB1 moving C49- to C39+
  • Storeton: PSB3  staying on C60 but offset down by 166kHz
  • Union Mills (IoM): PSB3 moving C50 to C40

Some other transmitters are increasing power to levels which should drown out any interfering 4G signals. This may also improve current reception, but won't require a retune. However, some viewers may need to remove signal amplifiers if their signal levels become too high and overload their tuner:

  • Bethesda North: PSB1, PSB2 and PSB3 doubling power 2W to 4W
  • Cemaes: PSB1, PSB2 and PSB3 doubling power 5.6W to 11W
  • Maentwrog: PSB1, PSB2 and PSB3 doubling power 3.2W to 6W
  • Morfa Nefyn: PSB1, PSB2 and PSB3 doubling power 14W to 28W
  • Waunfawr: PSB1, PSB2 and PSB3 doubling power 5.2W to 10.4W

Part of the retune will also see four of the transmitters kicking out a stronger, more robust signal as power pumped to the aerials is (in most cases) doubled.

The transmitters at Bethesda North, Maentwrog, Morfa Nefy and Wanfawr will all benefit from a bit of extra juice meaning Freeview reception will improve in these areas.

Multiplex information courtesy of UK Free TV.

November 13, 2012 

 UK networks form Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited to take on interference 

The UK networks have announced the formation of a new company called Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited.

Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited will help Freeview customers who stand to suffer interference from the 4G rollout get their TV service back, or, in the worst case scenario, stump up funding for an alternative digital TV service.

The deal is that once O2, EE, Three and Vodafone begin bidding for a slice of the 800MHz spectrum - the part of the broadcast spectrum that’ll interfere with Freeview - then they’ll be responsible for ensuring that consumers continue to receive clear Freeview TV signals.

Part of the solution of the so-called 4G Freeview Fail involves signal boosters which can be connected to Freeview devices. These will mitigate interference from 4G and will help out in most cases.

In other cases where the interference is too strong for boosters to make a difference, it’s thought that DMSL will be looking at supplying a Freeview-esque service via Virgin Media’s cable network or via Freesat.

The 4G auction for the remaining spectrum is due to take place later this year, with all the networks expected to launch 4G services in early 2013.

October 18, 2012

 Everything Everywhere to launch 4G in September 

Everything Everywhere, the company which owns Orange and T-Mobile, will launch 4G services in the UK next month.

Ofcom has given Everything Everywhere permission to use part of its existing 2G network to launch 4G services on September 11, 2012, ahead of the proposed 4G spectrum auction.

This will provide greater download speeds and advanced services for Orange and T-Mobile customers. Fortunately, EE's new network at 1800MHz won't affect Freeview at 800MHz.

August 21, 2012

     Free Virgin Media and Freesat for those who can't get Freeview     

4G Freeview fail: Free Freesat and Virgin Media if filters don’t work

Ed Vaizey has announced that 4G signal filters will be distributed free to 900,000 homes due to be affected by the 4G-Freeview issue.

It’s thought that when 4G hits the UK next year, it’ll interfere with the Freeview broadcast frequency, leaving millions unable to get the free-to-air digital TV service.

In a letter to Ofcom chairman Ed Richards, the Communications Minister said: “Around 2.3 million households could be affected. Only 900,000 are likely to rely on DTT for their primary viewing, so in effect, fewer than a million people will be directly affected. The rest will be viewing television on satelite [sic], cable or broadband.”

While that’s all well and good if you’ve got Sky or Virgin in the living room, but what if you’ve got Freeview in the kitchen or the bedroom?

Vaizey says: “I am of the view that support should only be offered to mitigate interference into primary sets and not to additional sets. This is consistent with the approach we took in [the Digital Switchover] where help was provided (to those eligible) for one set only.”

There instead would be 'some thought given to how it can be made easier for affected viewers to acquire additional filters - for example information provided on suitable local stockists or the assistance scheme providing them at cost'.

So if you’ve got more than one Freeview TV, the answer is you'll need to fork out extra for each one. Televes’ Innova Boss antenna (which comes with a filter built in) costs £25, so a standalone in-line filter should cost less than £10.

Ed Vaizey: £50 Vouchers for signal amplifiers

The 900,000 homes likely to be affected will be eligible for free filters and amplifying equipment where it’s needed.

Vaizey's letter estimates that in some cases engineers would be required to install amplifiers, with callouts costing £50. "Those homes which need a professional installer to fit the filter to a masthead amplifier which is still required, after switchover, to deliver good DTT reception should be able to ask for a voucher for £50+VAT which can be redeemed by a reputable installer,” he adds.

Even with these plans in place, Vaizey notes that there will be some 38,500 homes where a filter won't make a difference.

The open letter notes that this figure falls to 17,000 if some 'limited level of network mitigation were applied to the 150 worst interfering mobile base stations'. We’re not sure that the networks would be keen on any mitigation of their 4G networks, given that they're joint-funding this venture, so this might not come to pass.

July 11, 2012

Previous news stories about the 4G Freeview Fail