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The Future of Freeview: moving frequencies and more HD

Why could Freeview change?

Latest news for The Future of FreeviewTV and mobile broadband both want to use a small range of radio frequencies from around 470MHz to 826MHz.

These frequencies travel long distances with relatively few transmitters, and penetrate buildings – ideal for both TV and mobile – but only one technology can use it.

Mobile broadband use is set to rocket in the next couple of decades, and by 2030 it could easily be up to 80 times today’s traffic. Even with new technology like 4G making the most efficient use of what they’ve got, mobile operators won’t be able to keep up with demand.

The Future of Freeview: moving frequencies and more HD
UHF: everyone wants a piece of the action

The manufacturers of both TV and mobile equipment would like everywhere in the world to use the same frequencies for each purpose, so they can make cheaper kit that works everywhere.

This ‘harmonisation’ is good for users as well – new technology can be launched faster and cheaper, and your phone works everywhere you go.

Which Freeview frequencies are being harmonised for mobile broadband?

Harmonisation is already happening with the 800MHz frequencies (also known as UHF channels 61-69), which authorities worldwide have agreed to use for 4G mobile broadband.

Ofcom – the UK regulator for TV, radio, phone and broadband – got caught out by this move because it had planned to use 800MHz for Freeview in some parts of the UK, before it was allocated for mobile broadband.

That’s why some Freeview channels above 800MHz will have to be moved to lower frequencies next year to clear the airwaves for 4G, and due to some bad planning, there will be some interference with Freeview signals just under 800MHz as well. We call this the 4G Freeview Fail.

Now there’s a worldwide move to harmonise the 700MHz region (channels 49-60) for 5G at the end of this decade, and this time Ofcom – the UK regulator for TV, radio, phone and broadband – is trying to plan ahead.

What does this mean for Freeview?

If Ofcom can’t find somewhere to move Freeview signals from 700MHz, a large part of the UK could lose half their Freeview channels.

They’ve worked out it’s possible, but not without a major retuning exercise that could see millions of homes needing to fit a new TV aerial.

Broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 also want to launch more high definition TV channels on Freeview, but there isn’t enough space to expand now, let alone without 700MHz.

They’d like us all to use Freeview HD receivers, because they use the airwaves a lot more efficiently than the original Freeview technology. Even by 2018, it’s predicted that only 80 per cent of Freeview homes will have an HD receiver, and only 69 per cent will have Freeview HD on more than one TV.

There’s also a set of radio frequencies around 600MHz (UHF channels 31-37) which have been emptied by the Digital Switchover. It looks like this is where the ousted Freeview channels will end up.

The BBC and Channel 4 would like to use this as soon as possible to launch more Freeview HD channels, to encourage people to adopt Freeview HD faster. Instead of just moving the Freeview channels from 700MHz in 2018, they can move and upgrade them to Freeview HD.

So 600MHz is ideal for Freeview, but as ever there are other technologies which could use it as well. The question is, what should be done with it now?

What are the options for Freeview?

It’s looking like the 700MHz frequencies will be auctioned off in around 2018, with a view to new services going live by 2020.

Ofcom has also asked the TV and mobile industries – and the public – what they want to do with the 600MHz frequencies.

The main suggestion was to give the lion’s share to Freeview until 2018, with some space for radio microphones and other tech used in live events, and the rest open for experiments in new White Space Devices.

White Space is the unused gaps between other broadcasts, usually to stop them interfering with each other. It can be used at low power, however, and it’s causing excitement among everyone from broadband providers to utility companies who want to install electricity, gas and water meters that automatically report on our consumption.

So Ofcom has decided to launch two new Freeview HD multiplexes as soon as possible, allowing some white space experiments and special event use, while it works on a detailed plan for retuning Freeview in 2018 in the least-disruptive fashion.

What will be on the new Freeview HD multiplexes?

The proposal from the BBC doesn’t go into great detail about all 10 of the HD channels which could be on the new multiplexes.

The BBC wants to simulcast a third BBC TV channel – either BBC Four or BBC Three – and potentially the BBC Red Button video service in HD, but it will need permission from the BBC Trust.

Channel 4 plans to simulcast at least one, and potentially two, of its channels – either E4, More4 or Film4.

When will the new Freeview HD channels go live, and where?

Arqiva, which operates the UK’s TV and radio transmitters, will build and operate a network of 20 transmitters using equipment which carried the temporary Freeview HD multiplex in some areas during Digital Switchover.

These will cover around 63 per cent of UK homes, and could be live in 2014 if Ofcom gives permission to launch in January 2013. 

Latest news for The Future of Freeview

£180,000 a year to add up to 30 new TV channels 

The future of Freeview: £180,000 a year to add up to 30 new TV channels​Two new Freeview multiplexes that could add up to 30 new TV channels are up for grabs with a starting price of £180,000 a year.

The new services would carry up to 10 high definition TV channels or 30 standard-definition signals to more than half of UK homes.

They’re being offered as part of Ofcom’s plan to make Freeview more efficient before it hands more UHF spectrum to mobile phone operators from 2019.

UHF spectrum in the UK, Freeview and 4G (Ofcom)

Ofcom said: “Our policy objective is for the 600 MHz DVB-T2 DTT service to be an interim extension of the current six multiplex DTT platform, in order to encourage the take up of the more spectrum efficient DVB-T2 technology by UK DTT consumers.

“Therefore, there is a need to maintain a high level of service quality in line with existing conditions for the provision of DTT services.”

The new Freeview multiplexes will have to reach 10 per cent of homes within a year of winning the licence, and beat 50 per cent coverage in two years, including at least of quarter of homes in each of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

They will be on air until at least the end of 2019, when Freeview will have to be re-organised to empty the 700MHz frequency band and squeeze into a smaller chunk of spectrum.

The best way to make this happen is to get everybody using Freeview HD technology, which could fit all of Freeview and its HD channels into three multiplexes instead of the six used today.

The 600MHz band was cleared during Digital Switchover, and as well as the new Freeview multiplexes, Ofcom also wants to fit in a small research signal, radio microphones, and new White Space Devices.

Bidders for the new multiplexes have until April 4 to reply to Ofcom, with a final statement expected by the end of May. If there’s one bidder, the licence could be awarded by September 2013, but an auction is likely to delay it.

The minimum price will be £180,000 per year to the winner, but they’ll be able to sell their newly-minted capacity to broadcasters eager to get into millions of Freeview homes.

February 6, 2013 (image sam_churchill/Flickr)

Image: Ofcom

Up to 10 more Freeview HD channels coming in 2014

Feels goo to Freeview by David Ince/Liquid CanvasFreeview homes could get up to ten more HD channels next year to tempt users to replace basic Freeview kit with advanced receivers.

Ofcom has sided with a BBC and Channel 4 proposal to launch more Freeview HD channels in the ‘600MHz band’ which was cleared by the Digital Switchover.

They’re hoping that a boost from five to 15 HD channels will tempt Freeview homes to upgrade their equipment faster – so they can move out of the 700MHz band in 2018.

They’ll have to do this because mobile broadband operators will be sold the 700MHz Freeview frequencies in 2018 for 5G mobile broadband, just as they’re now being sold the 800MHz Freeview frequencies for 4G – we’ve explained why in more detail below.

If the UK can be convinced to take up Freeview HD, it will make it easier to retune Freeview in 2018 without millions of homes losing channels or having to get a new aerial.

Ofcom said: “In the short term, expanding the range of HD services available on the DTT [Freeview] platform would strengthen its ability to deliver consumer benefits, as it would expand the range of services available to households that already have a compatible receiver.

“Over time, the expanded range of services available could provide incentives for consumers to accelerate the take-up of DVB-T2 MPEG-4 [Freeview HD] compatible receivers. This could facilitate a faster migration of the DTT platform to these more efficient standards.

“This would in turn result in: greater spectrum efficiency being achieved earlier; greater flexibility in achieving multiplex coverage levels comparable to today through a future DTT replan; greater potential for the DTT platform to continue to remain attractive and sustainable as a means of delivering important citizen and consumer benefits over the long term.”

The new Freeview HD multiplexes will share the 600MHz band with radio microphones for TV and live events, and testing for a new technology called White Space Devices.

These can be used for broadband and ‘smart’ utility meters that communicate with your power or water supplier.

Just one company suggested all the 600MHz space should go to White Space Device testing while Freeview and event organisers take a hike. Their name? Sky.

November 16, 2012 (image David Ince/Liquid Canvas/Freeview)

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