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Freeview’s 4G, 5G and extra HD future: do you have the right TV aerial?

The next decade will see Freeview signals moved to make way for 4G, then 5G, and an extra 10 Freeview HD channels added in between – but what’s the right TV aerial to stay ahead?

Communications regulator Ofcom and the UK TV aerial industry are tackling the issue now to make sure professional aerial riggers fit the best aerial for their customer.

“We think this will drive take-up of wideband aerials,” said Erika Forsberg, Project Director for Ofcom’s Spectrum Policy Group, who spoke to members of the installation trade at the Confederation of Aerial Industries’ annual expo.

Freeview’s 4G, 5G and extra HD future: do you have the right TV aerial?
A wideband aerial: powerful, but right for the future? (Image: Triax)

Read Recombu Digital’s guides to The Future of Freeview, 5G and the 4G Freeview FailTerrestrial TV has been in a restless state since digital broadcasts started in 1998, and Digital Switchover saw many people fit new TV aerials before it completed at the end of 2012.

This year Freeview is being pushed out of the 800MHz band to make way for 4G mobile broadband, the next couple of years will see both local TV and new Freeview HD channels launch in space cleared by the Switchover, and the end of the decade could see Freeview evicted from the 700MHz band for so-called 5G mobile broadband.

Aerial accuracy

This reshuffling of where digital channels actually sit can cause problems if aerials cannot receive the right frequency groups. 

For years, many installers have fitted wideband aerials to cover most eventualities, but some legacy installations may be unsuitable for additional services such as the new local channels, due to start in various UK locations later in 2013, and the proposed extra Freeview HD multiplexes.

“If viewers already have a wideband aerial they will be unaffected,” explained Forsberg. “It’s also worth looking at aerial Group K.”

One drawback with traditional wideband aerials is that, with the launch of 4G in the 800MHz band, they are prone to receive the ‘wrong’ signals as far as TV is concerned – leading to possible interference – unless they are filtered out. 

For this reason, those Group K aerials, not commonly used right now, could become more important. Group K is a wideband aerial which cuts off above above UHF channel 48 (687.25MHz), so it’s great unless you’re in one of those tricky areas where Freeview is currently in the 700MHz range. 

In the mean time the industry is considering a new category, Group T, which covers the entire Freeview (terrestrial) bandwidth but omits 800MHz as used by 4G. 

Tim Jenks, Senior Executive of the CAI said, “It makes sense to ‘narrow’ the aerial down somewhat and improve its response curves for the frequencies left.” 

A key question is whether another batch of spectrum is reallocated to mobile services in the 700MHz band.

Ofcom’s Erika Forsberg explained, “In the next 10 years – not before 2018 – channels 49-60 [the 700MHz band] could be released for mobile broadband, just like the 800MHz band, and we are keen to do whatever we can now to avoid disruption and cost to consumers.”

Don’t blame the rigger

Aerial installers will bear the brunt of disgruntled TV viewers who may have paid for an upgrade during Digital Switchover, and need a replacement for these changes.

Tim Jenks of the CAI asserts that his trade body members “do not build into the price of aerial installation the fact that Ofcom, government or broadcasters may change their mind over which frequency they send out their programmes. 

“If a broadcast channel moves, necessitating change, someone is paying. If 4G screws up your TV viewing, At800 are paying, not the fellas who last had the money for the aerial rig.”

No-one can predict what will happen in the long term, but it’s why Ofcom is flagging up potential issues. You can expect some push and pull between regulators, broadcasters, installers and consumers. 

Our advice: Freeview users should make absolutely sure that any new or replacement aerials are as future-proofed as possible. In all likelihood, only a few people will need to change their existing aerial to receive the new services, so make sure it’s absolutely necessary. 

Additional reporting by Ian Calcutt

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