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Should the UK close down the TV networks to allow for more mobile broadband?

Ofcom is wondering if Freeview is needed in the future, or can we close down the massively popular service to provide more 4G broadband. Freeview occupies 256MHz today, whilst mobile phone services have 560MHz. Digital UK has a report that suggests Freeview is good for the UK.

I am not sure if I want more mobile broadband or want to keep Freeview.  Photograph: Shutterstock
I am not sure if I want more mobile broadband or want to keep Freeview. Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

From the Digital UK Press Office today:

A new report published today reveals the major economic benefits that Freeview and other terrestrial TV services deliver to the UK.

The report shows that the country's most widely used platform returns nearly £80bn to the economy and challenges the view that mobile broadband delivers more value from airwaves than television.

The findings come at the start of a year when crucial decisions about the future of free-to-air TV will be made by policy makers in the UK and EU. Just over a year after digital switchover freed up capacity for 4G mobile broadband, a further shake-up of the airwaves is being considered to release more spectrum for the mobile market.

Commissioned by Digital UK, the report by media and telecoms consultancy Communications Chambers sets out for the first time the economic and social importance of digital terrestrial television (DTT) which delivers broadcast channels for both Freeview and YouView - and is watched in three-quarters of UK homes.

Headlines from the report include:

  • Evidence of DTT's vital role in supporting UK broadcasting, driving innovation and investment in programme-making while keeping consumer costs down
  • DTT provides nearly £80bn* to the UK - significantly more than previously estimated - and supports 15,000 jobs in broadcasting and independent production
  • New economic analysis showing that DTT delivers more value per unit of spectrum than mobile broadband (see notes)

As the largest free-to-air TV service, DTT creates healthy competition between platforms and ensures viewers can access public service channels without subscription Digital UK and its members (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva) are urging government to ensure any further transfers of airwaves do not weaken Freeview and other terrestrial TV services, and that viewers should not suffer disruption or foot the bill for making the changes. In a joint letter accompanying the report, Tony Hall, BBC Director General, Adam Crozier, CEO of ITV, David Abraham, Channel 4 CEO and John Cresswell, CEO of Arqiva, stress the importance of terrestrial services such as Freeview in ensuring the UK remains a world leader in television.

Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive of Digital UK, said: "This report sheds new light on the value of DTT for viewers, the UK television sector and wider economy. With increasing demand for spectrum it is critical that DTT remains a strong proposition with the same coverage and range of channels viewers enjoy today."

Copies of the report can be downloaded from The Value of Digital Terrestrial Television in an era of increasing demand for spectrum [PDF].


*£79.8bn, calculated on the basis of ten year "net present value" (NPV)

New economic analysis: The report estimates that the average value per MHz of spectrum for DTT is 50% higher than that for mobile data and that the marginal value (the unit value that might realistically be reallocated between DTT and mobile) may be even greater. The report estimates the marginal value of mobile data per MHz of spectrum to be £0.19bn compared to £0.47bn for DTT.

Help with Freeview, aerials?
How do I get a test card with Freeview1
I would like to know if it is possible to receive UK terrestrial Freeview servic2
I have been told I would receive too much singal from my Freeview tansmitter as 3
Can my Freeview box receive more than one BBC and ITV region?4
Is it true that my 87 year old mother is entitled to a FREE upgrade when the ana5
In this section
UK Digital switchover ends - Northern Ireland completes on 24th October 20121
The last day of analogue television in the UK - goodbye PAL2
2 days left of analogue television - goodbye teletext3
3 days of analogue to go - goodbye to NICAM 7284
Changes to Saorview frequencies and power levels, 24th October 20125
Northern Ireland RTE1, RTE2, TG4 special mini-multiplex from 24 October6

Saturday, 25 January 2014

6:11 PM

I still can't see it being as reliable as an aerial and transmitter system, but then digital isn't as reliable as analogue was so if we are going down the quantity instead of quality path, and that seams to be the way of everything now then it would be the next logical step.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage

6:55 PM

Ian: Why do you say "digital isn't as reliable as analogue"? Do you have some figures of which I'm not aware?

And it depends on what you mean, of course, for the 15 years before switchover all the "analogue" channels were distributed digitally...

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Briantist's 38,915 posts GB flag

7:35 PM

This is becoming a most invigorating discussion! Quite a few very salient points have been raised, which, in a democratic, demand-led society, would give offcon and parliamentarians invaluable input to deter them from making tunnel-vision lobby-inspired decisions. But : are they reading, are they listening?

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michael's 869 posts GB flag

8:15 PM

digital to the home is not as reliable, just look at the posts on this site. Glitching, poor reception, constant re-tunes, etc, etc, etc. analogue just worked and it worked for years.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag
Ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage

8:38 PM

The WWW is not entirely 'self healing'. Having discussed at great length with my friend in Openreach and Virgin Media, the topology of the web at an international and national level is as a web of interconnected systems, so at that level it is 'resilient' and can automatically re-route data connections if some/several are lost or disrupted. However, at a lower and more local level things are different. Each main exchange (or distribution centre) is fed by several connections so that has a degree of resilience. Residents lucky enough to be connected directly to the main exchange can benefit from that but each subscriber is connected in a 'star' pattern to the main exchange and that 'final mile' is a single connection so cannot be resilient. At the next level down, the sub-exchange that serves smaller towns, they rarely have more than a single connection to the main exchange and subscribers on those sub-exchanges are also on a star topology, so no resilience. I happen to connected to a sub-sub-exchange which has a single connection to the sub-exchange which has a single connection to the main exchange. So I, and many rural subscribers and others are on a star+star topology and there is no resilience at all! If one exchange in the link fails, there is no internet. If the link to my house fails, there is no internet. If my exchange is flooded, there could be no internet. No internet will mean no TV in the scenario you mention. (I have checked my thoughts with a friend working for Openreach just before composing this response.)
As for reliability of DTT, I have to agree it does not appear to be anywhere near as robust as analogue was. The key part of the link in not the distribution side, that is from studio/playout centre to transmitter but the link between transmitter and TV screen& speakers. Just looking at the pages on your website here shows that a significant, but probably small, proportion of viewers have significant problems receiving the programme services they are led to expect. In the early day of analogue, there were many problems and most were connected with the reception equipment. My suspicion is that the same is currently holding true for DTV. Some installations at homes experience little or not problems, but others experience very significant problems and hence causing severe frustration. Part of the problem is perhaps poorly design/manufactured home equipment, part is poorly designed/installed aerial systems. Part is poorer understanding by both the industry and the viewer of what is actually feasible with the technology we currently use. So it seems that most have no problems with DTV services, but most also don't appreciate all the 'retuning' that has been needed to accomodate changes and will be rather more vociferous in future if the current ideas come to fruition. But others are having significant problems that cannot just be 'swept under the carpet'. I know that is not your intention and hence the reason, or at least one of them, for this website that can be very helpful to the non-technical as we who have some knowledge and experience in these matters can offer suggestions.
As someone with a scientific background (electronics and physics are my main degree subjects) I know thisnge are always changing, but the viewers' main interest is watching the programme content largely for entertainment.
Keep up the good work with the website but we need to see things from the customer perspective too.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
ian from notts

9:06 PM

Briantist: Ian , if anyone on here wants to discuss the reliability of bbc1, bbc2, itv, ch4 or ch5 between analogue or digital, then they have a valid point.
But to be fair, if they want to compare itv2,3,4 bbc3,4 , cbbc, dave, pick, yesterday, 4music, e4, more4, 5*, 5usa, 4/7 then they are recieving something that they cant have thro analogue?
i have seen comments about these channels with "they shouldnt have changed it"
Also, 90% of the probs on here do seem to be in house?
we are using a brand new system and electricity (or the wheel) had their early day flaws !
i do believe modern tech tries to cram more than poss into their gadgets (tv's mobiles, cars ect)
Just my opinion chaps

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ian from notts's 253 posts GB flag
ian's: mapI's Freeview map terrainI's terrain plot wavesI's frequency data I's Freeview Detailed Coverage

9:29 PM

MikeP: Sorry to be picky, but if you can't make the basic distinction between the World Wide Web and the Internet, I think you're on shaky ground.

The WWW is a service that run on the internet. Client programmes (known as "web browsers") connect peer-to-peer with servers using the hypertext transfer protocol (http). The server process is known as httpd ("http daemon").

Http was invented recently, and used the existing internet infrastructure, which had come out of the US defense programmes in the late 1960s.

HTTP is what we call an "application layer" program. The other six layers of the OSI networking reference model more-or-less fit TCP/IP.

TCP=Transmission Control Protocol. which is designed to allow machines on local area networks to talk to each other, and IP is the Internet Protocol, which tells networks how to connect to each other.

A long time ago, I wrote my own TCP/IP stack.... What fun you can have with a protocol analysers and many hours to spare.

I actually set up IP networks inside British Telecom (as we called it them) before they used them officially! We used them inside Broadcast Services BEFORE Netscape came alone, so were able to roll out an Intranet server and a Web server before everyone else (the BBC Networking club and BTRL at Martlesham Heath).

Am I a little disappointed that some consumer IP networks were implemented using godawful asymmetric technology. Yes, I'm upset by that. I spent many years arguing to get fibre to the home.

If you want to lay anything at the feet of Margaret Thatcher then I blame her for forbidding BT to use their networks for "entertainment" (ie, IP networks) to let the cable companies "have a chance".

Law of unintended consequences, I suppose.

Looking to the future: if the mobile companies want to replace Freeview with 4G, then the deal they will have to strike is for the networks that replace them to have sufficient resilience: I can't see the BBC or ITV wanting anything less.

It well worth remembering that if you provide a free-basic-broadband for everyone then people might have a BT ADSL pipe PLUS a Virgin pipe PLUS 4G wireless and perhaps something provided using Wireless (ethernet).

Just because one network isn't resilient enough, doesn't mean they wouldn't be if you plugged them together.

As with any network: diverse routing is the key. DTT sites are fed with fibres in a loop, and have satellite as a backup.

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Briantist's 38,915 posts GB flag
P. Kieran Ward

11:38 PM

Briantist: Here, Here Brian!

While I am not very technically astute I do partly understand the points you make. I am self taught electronics and have the backup of my brother working within the telecommunications industry who explains the things I have troubles with but unfortunately he lives in Australia.

P. Kieran Ward

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P. Kieran Ward's 89 posts GB flag

11:50 PM

May I be down to earth and not try to prove how techo I am please.
Firstly, the Internet can be controlled - servers can be switched off by government interests DAB too. DTT can also be manipulated as it's limited to muxs and within country borders. DTT is based on quantity of channels - but generally TV programme quality (material) has degenerated to a point where children are open to hearing vile language in many movies or watching violence in soaps.
In the days of Analogue a decent programme and good picture could be reliably watched on a portable with a set-top aerial. Ironically many of the 7" digital flat screens with their 5" bits of wire can often fail to get any sort of picture!! yet firms still con customers into buying them - only to have them returned, ask Maplin. So digital TV needs a damned good aerial even in a strong area - where old fashioned analogue could be relied upon digital might offer all sorts of stations - but if you cant get ANY signal its rather pointless. Broadband TV needs a damned good Wi-Fi hub and really super speed or freezes etc are common - and if your ISP has a street-box fault and you can't use off-air TV (via box and aerial) you loose your TV . Whilst BBC remind you that you have to have a licence, are they prepared to refund lost service? I don't think so. To Hell with more mobile phone waveband space so kids to bosses can play and send inane messages - we viewers and listeners have suffered the appalling ignorance of politicians since the 1960's - and before and some stupid ideas (DAB) and policies (Marine Offences Act). If these phone companies want waveband space end DAB and give 'em that.

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Watlingfen's 38 posts GB flag
Sunday, 26 January 2014
Willie Bone

11:01 AM

Should the UK close down the TV networks to allow for more mobile broadband?

Freeview entered its first phase as the defunct ONDIGITAL replacement followed by an exclusive roll on the terrestrial television system with analogue switch off by 2012, heralding the start of phase two.
Freeview phase three should begin around year 2019/2020 as an exclusive dtt delivery system encoded on a MP4 compression layer. This will allow HD2/HD3 to be available to over 98% per cent of the UK population while some vacated frequencies can be auction off to telcos.
A fourth phase of Freeview or system closure should not be considered until year 2030.
Let us face it! If super broadband availability is not universal by the year 2030, it never will be at any time!!

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Willie Bone's 58 posts GB flag
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