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 By Thomas Newton on Thursday, 17th May 2012 - Recombu


It’s (almost) as bad as we feared; rollout of 4G across the 800MHz spectrum will hobble Freeview broadcasts signals in 1.9 million UK homes, Ed Vaizey confirmed to the Government yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, responding to questions from MPs John Mann and Anna Soubry about the 4G/Freeview face-off said that:

“Ofcom estimated that the number of households using signal amplifiers was 9 million of which up to 945,000 could be affected and the number of households using a communal aerial system was 5.6 million of which up to 953,000 households who use communal aerial systems could be affected.”

This works out at 1,898,000 homes which stand to lose access to Freeview. That's quite a few less houses than the 2.3 million claimed in the earlier VLV report.

The homes which stand to lose out are in areas where there’s already low Freeview signal (necessitating the use of a signal amplifier) or in apartments with a single master aerial.

A partial solution to the problem is the formation of MitCo, a company which will supply “information and providing DTT receiver filters to households proactively and reactively. Platform changes will also be offered to households where filters do not solve the issue of interference.”

MitCo: UK mobile networks using 4G to pay for Freeview outage
MitCo will be funded by a £180 million pot which will come from “the new 800 MHz licensees” (i.e. O2, Everything Everywhere, Vodafone and Three). The Government will bear the brunt of any overspend and any money left over will be split halfway between the Government and the networks.

£20 million of the £180 million will be spend on installation support of filters and equipment to “vulnerable customers.”

The ‘Platform changes’ above presumably refers to Freesat, the free-to-air platform that offers much of the same channels as Freeview. As Freesat is satellite-based it won’t be affected by the 800MHz signal crossover.

There’s a potential problem here if the landlord of a communal property won’t consent to a dish being fitted.

Vaizey mentioned an Ofcom estimate that the numbers of affected households could fall to 5,100 and 3,400 households for the respective groups once “a mixture of consumer based and selective mobile network based mitigation methods are applied.”

So once MitCo has done all it can, the total number of households affected falls to 8,500. That’s a small customer base that Sky or Virgin Media could potentially muscle in on, again, depending on landlord’s willingness to install dishes and the reach of Virgin’s cable network.

Ofcom is “currently considering all responses” and is expected to publish a statement in the summer. The full Hansard report can be found here.

Freeview currently broadcasts on the 600MHz, 700MHz and 800MHz frequencies. It's also a concern that the launch of mobile broadband on the 700MHz spectrum could reduce Freeview to a rump of 20 channels in 2018.




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