If you’re living in one of the thousands of homes where it looks like Freeview will be wiped out thanks to 4G then you may be understandably annoyed. Enraged even. Especially if you’ve invested heavily in Freeview set top boxes, PVRs and connected TVs over the years, only to find that it’s all to be rendered obsolete, thanks to some people in charge not realising years down the line that 4G and Freeview would inevitably clash.
Off the back of one of our most popular stories, many of you have been suggesting that the 4G Freeview Fail as we’ve titled it, is an evil, elaborate scam cooked up by David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch to forcibly migrate Freeview customers on to lucrative Sky subscriptions – as if Sky is the only other digital TV option.
This is not the case.
What’s actually happening is that the UK Government, Ofcom and the UK mobile networks are working together on a venture called MitCo which will, among other things, provide money for those without Freeview to get set-up with a Virgin Media subscription or Freesat.
In an open letter to Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey said:
“There will be some homes where a filter cannot remedy the [Freeview] interference [from 4G]. Ofcom has estimated that 38,500 premises are in this category, although the number falls to 17,000 if some limited level of network mitigation were applied to the 150 worst interfering mobile base stations. For these homes, assistance should be provided to switch to free-to-view satellite or to cable TV.”
So Sky has effectively been ruled out as an option here. Whether or not Sky challenges this remains to be seen; for now its looking like some 17,000-38,500 homes are in line to get some free Virgin Media or Freesat.
4G Freeview Fail: What are the options?
We know is that if affected house is in an area covered by Virgin Media’s network then you’ll be offered that or Freesat if you’re not. One way or the other, you’ll be entitled to some free digital TV by way of compensation for this massive oversight.
Note that in either case, you’ll only be offered money for the most basic set-up for just one room in the house, ostensibly the living room.
With this in mind we’ve taken a look at what you could be possibly offered and what you might want to consider if you want Virgin Media or Freesat in other rooms in your home.
4G Freeview Fail: Virgin Media – what’s covered?
Exact plans are still vague as to what Virgin Media services will be offered – whether it’s the standard V+ HD service or Virgin Media TiVo.
It’s understood that the basic set-up and installation costs will be covered so whatever is offered, you should be covered for the cost of whatever hardware you’re offered.
The basic Virgin Media TV service – Virgin Media M+ – comes with 83 channels and costs £12/month, with a current promotional offer seeing this fall to £6/month for the first six months.
It’s currently not known if the money provided by MitCo will go towards paying for a Virgin Media TV subscription or not.
4G Freeview Fail: Freesat – what’s covered?
With Freesat there’s no monthly subscription fee so the question about what MitCo may or may not cover becomes much clearer.
Though again nothing’s been confirmed, it’s expected that money to pay for the very basic Freesat service – one set top box or TV set and a satellite dish with a single feed – would be included.
Standard Freesat installation costs roughly £80 for the Freesat dish and £100 if you want a dish that can pick up multiple signals – something you’ll need if you want Freesat+ or Freesat in other rooms of the house.
Given the commitment to provide funding for just one room in the house, it’s unlikely that you’ll be offered money for the second option here.
4G Freeview Fail: How much will getting Virgin Media or Freesat in extra rooms cost?
Looking at the current costs, if you want to get Virgin Media TV in more rooms in your house you’ll need to pay an extra £6.50/month for each V+ HD set-top box you want.
For Virgin Media TiVo boxes, there’s an additional £5 monthly fee on top of the regular £6.50/month rate.
Given that minister for culture Ed Vaizey’s line on MitCo is that ‘support should only be offered to mitigate interference into primary sets and not to additional sets’, we can expect that these fees for Virgin Media TV in extra rooms will remain.
There’s no extra cost for the basic Virgin Media V+ HD set top boxes themselves, but extra Virgin Media TiVo boxes cost £49.95 for the 500GB edition and £99.95 for the 1TB edition.
For Freesat, you’ll need to pay around £100 for the installation of a dish that can pick up multiple signals.
If you’re looking at getting Freesat in extra rooms or Freesat+ or Free Time from Freesat, you’ll need to think about how many feeds you’ll need and whether your dish can support them.
Standard Freesat that lets you watch just one channel at once, requires just one satellite feed – one cable connecting the set top box or TV to the dish. Freesat+, which lets you watch one channel while recording another needs two. Free Time from Freesat also needs two feeds per room.
So for example if you wanted standard Freesat in four rooms in the house, you’d need a dish that could support four lines at once. If you wanted Freesat+ you’d need one which could support eight lines at once.
4G Freeview Fail: Why don’t we know more?
The truth is that right now we don’t have all the details available about what MitCo’s plans are and how exactly Virgin Media and Freesat will be offered to customers not able to get Freeview in a post-4G world.
We will update once there is more information available from MitCo – that is to say, government officials, members of Ofcom and the UK networks – Virgin Media and Freesat.
4G Freeview Fail: What are the other alternatives?
As much as we know it will annoy a certain breed of commenter, one option would be to consider getting a Sky TV subscription.
Though you won’t get any cash from MitCo from this it is one sure fire way to avoid the issue of 4G interference. Plus you’ll get all of the regular Freeview channels you’re used to (including Dave and Yesterday) and a host of others to boot.
Another option if you can’t get Freeview because of 4G is to fight fire with fire and stream BBC shows on mobile iPlayer apps or on your laptop, via a 4G mobile broadband dongle.