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DTG Summit: Freeview 700 MHz band for 4G very likely, BBC pay-Freeview not

I was fortunate to win some tickets to the annual meeting of the Digital Television Group at the DTG Summit today. The theme of the day was "co-allocation", a rather innocuous term for handing over the Freeview transmission bandwidth to mobile phone operators. We also learnt how advanced the plans are for Freeview to be equipped for a conditional-access to replace the TV Licence and saw the latest Freesat and YouView equipment.

The Digital Television Group Summit 2014  Photograph: Brian Butterworth
The Digital Television Group Summit 2014 Photograph: Brian Butterworth
published on UK Free TV

Before I tell you about co-allocation, I think it is worth mentioning a few other things I learnt today. Please do see the see FITT report, which came out today Future of Innovation in Television Technology Taskforce.

Freesat Freetime

First, is that the rather amazing Freesat Freetime app for Apple devices is coming to Android at some point. This application once linked to your Freesat Personal Video Recorder box has all the features you might expect for finding TV programmes to record.

In addition, when you have content recorded on your box, the application shows you the details of the shows, and allows you to select and play the one you want. This makes it also as simple as Google Chromecast to pick and play TV content.

I have to say that I am very fond of Freesat Freetime: the interface is slick and simple and it "just works" and it is simple to access on-demand content: you can even step back though seven days of watchable content by just going left in the TV listings.

YouView, version 2

I was pleased to see that the second version of the YouView box was actually usable. The first box, which I had obtained from BT, I found to be unresponsive and buggy. The old box took ages to wake up, the interface was slow. If the internet failed for some reason, you had to disconnect the Ethernet cable and reconnect it to alert the YouView box to the return of your ISP service.

The new box, which I got to use for a few minutes, was much faster and thus responded to key presses when you made them, not seconds later. However the box did manage to forget about the MHEG5 text services and so would not access Red Button when asked.

Freeview and BBC "subscriptions"

In the session on Evolution of DTT, in the Q+A session that followed, I was able to ask Jonathan Thompson (CEO, Digital UK) about the migration planning for the BBC to become a subscription service, so that the Licence Fee could be replaced in January 2017.

The answer was that there are no plans in place to do this: Freeview is primarily a free-to-air platform and the stated policy is that it will remain that way.


You may recall that I have been posting for quite some time about the (Ofcom channel bingo II - introducing the bands) change of use of about one third of the existing Freeview broadcast spectrum for use by 4G mobile broadband.

It appears that (athough Minsiter Ed Vaize was not draw to a final commitment) the working assumption is that this will happen shortly.

The actual process will require the Ofcom Consultation to come out in favour, this is then forwarded to the EU who will agree this at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15). It is the WRC who would agree to the "Co-allocation" of 698MHz to 786MHz (C49 to C60)

What Co-allocation means in practice: switchover II

If the co-allocation plan goes though, then if you use Freeview you have a good chance that all you may have to do is perform another retune at some point.

If you Freeview and have a wideband aerial, then it is almost certain that all you will to do is retune. However if you have a "grouped" aerial, someone will probably have to pay for you to have it replaced.

The reason for this is that when transmitters were changed from analogue to digital care was taken to keep the transmission in the same aerial groups: the planners wanted households to keep their aerials.

However, this was not the most efficient use of the UHF channels. If the constraint of keeping transmitters in their same group is removed then 12 lots of 8MHz in the UHF band can be re-purposed for mobile broadband, whilst keeping the current PSB multiplex coverage.

The projections also suggest that the change to this new plan may reduce the coverage of the commercial multiplexes (COM4, COM5, COM6) by a small amount.

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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

6:17 PM

I have to fully agree with what you say on this subject Mick. I don't think that all the concerned bodies are working in unison here. On the one side, we have the television industry wanting to improve the digital visual technology and share that with the viewers by giving us ever improving, superb visual and audio quality etc, then we have the government etc on the other side, who seem to only care about how quickly they can sell off valuable spectrum to feed the greedy broadband and telecommunication companies. It's all well and good setting sell off goals for clearing of the tv spectrum, but the tv industry need time to create the new tv standard codecs, and how much spectrum they will need for the future . visual resolution technology is far outpacing the industries ability to keep pace with how to use it for broadcasting by means of compression codecs. Even before the full roll out of HD on Freeview in 2018, the BBC have two other higher HD specifications they are working on, pending a codec that can compress the video data stream sufficiently enough for broadcasting. A new compression codec, I believe, has to be able to perform at 50% efficiency over it's predecessor. And the higher the resolution of the video stream, the more bandwidth it will require to broadcast it. Also, prior to launch, the BBC etc want to improve the visual quality by addressing the question of the arti-facts that appear whenever there is sudden movement by adapting progressive scan for pre-recorded material at multiples of 50 fps, and are thinking of setting the lowest frame rate at either 100 or 150 fps. And for the top two highest resolutions, they think at least 300fps or higher to address the problem of motion blur. All of this needs time to address, before anything can be decided upon prior to how much bandwidth will be needed for terrestrial tv. then there's the public acceptance of having to purchase new television and recording equipment etc. for the new standards. If the powers that be, try implement un-realistic goals upon the television industries, then I can see that all terrestrial television will be forced to leave the uhf spectrum due to not being fully ready for the changes in spectrum allocated to them, and sadly, perhaps, having to be forced onto either satellite or cable networks instead. That will be a sad day I think.

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KEVIN GARDINER's 68 posts GB flag
KEVIN's: mapK's Freeview map terrainK's terrain plot wavesK's frequency data K's Freeview Detailed Coverage

6:55 PM

I'm glad I don't rely on terrestrial, it looks like it will soon be dead in the water

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag

8:12 PM

Ian: It is an interesting discussion point to wonder if direct-to-home satellite distribution of AV content will remain viable in the longer term.

Certainly there isn't the pressure to share the frequencies with other services that you have with DTT vs 4G.

Given that the current "time-frame" for thinking about services is in the 2015-2025/30, it seems quite possible that by 2025/30 that all services that are currently on FTA and pay DTH satelite will have migrated online.

That would certainly be true of the "minority" channels (those that don't score 0.1% in the BARB tables) and it seems quite likely that in this timeframe most of the content on the re-purpose channels (like UKTV) or "imports" channels (say Sky 1) will have move to on-demand type services.

That leaves "mass audience" channels (BBC One, ITV) being watch "live" plus specialist sports service.

You might find that there is a "legacy" service being run on DTH satellite by 2025, or that it will be online with DTT used for a few remaining "live" channels.

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Briantist's 38,905 posts GB flag

8:14 PM

It's worth remembering that Freeview is used by 75% of UK homes, so

Freeview still has government support, says Ed Vaizey | Media |

Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, has moved to allay fears that Freeview faces a threat of "switch off by stealth", saying the government will not "take any chances" over the service being squeezed off the airwaves it occupies.

Access to free-to-air television [on Freeview] is essential," said Vaizey, speaking at the Digital TV Group Summit on the future of television. "Caroline [Thomson] is doing her job raising industry concerns. I can assure the industry that we are not going to abandon it, we are going to support it."

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Briantist's 38,905 posts GB flag

8:18 PM

Nothing will become the norm on the internet until fast reliable internet that doesn't buffer every 5 seconds and doesn't cost a fortune is available all over the country. Something that despite promises it yet to become a reality.

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Ian's 497 posts GB flag

8:22 PM

KEVIN GARDINER: I'm guessing you are refering to…tems the High efficiency video coding?

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Briantist's 38,905 posts GB flag

8:28 PM

Ian: Putting the "being fair" hat on for a moment:

a) we are taking some years ahead;

b) buffering isn't something most people have had for years due to the use of CDN (content delivery networks) and the use of technologies such as edge-caching;

c) the DTG have a working group to deal with the issues of perfect video delivery on 4G. The discussion yesterday said that a lot of this was down to software rather than network issues;

d) wireless internet (as pointed out in the same session) is still a radio transmission and never immune from interruption.

e) it remains true that for mass audience programmes (millions of viewers), broadcast technologies remain highly cost-effective.

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Briantist's 38,905 posts GB flag

8:31 PM

Mike Dimmick: Very good points.

I did mention the WRC-15 process above, I have always carried the projected future transmitter frequency allocations to deal with the suggestions that grouped aerials are a good investment.

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Briantist's 38,905 posts GB flag
9:09 PM

My concern is that many in the more rural areas will still not get a decently fast broadband, the current target is only for a 2 Mbps service with no absolute requirement for that to be maintained all the time. Not good enough for watching TV while another family member uses the internet for study, email, etc.

Then consider the many older people who are not savvy with modern technology and already struggle with DTV. Many of the older generation in my family are just not interested in anything internet and don't see any need for it in their lives. Some people who are not yet of retirement age are similarly uninterested. Is it fair and reasonable to make them pay a large proportion of their limited pension income for something they don't see any real need for? Terrestrial TV has served them well since 1936 (start of regular BBC broadcasts from Alexander Palace) but now gives them problems because of the disruption experienced by several with reception of DTV signals. And to hear the comments about the 'rubbish' on TV these days! One Uncle asked my why they broke something that worked well. I had no real answer.

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LindaB's 5 posts GB flag

11:30 PM

LindaB: Just looking at the situation from the 4G point-of-view, they might argue that you are never going to get fast rural broadband without the UHF frequency allocations. 4G can easily deliver high speeds: I've just tested it now and we got 26Mbps down and 13Mbps up, which is at least four times what the BT ADSL2 service is providing.

If you watch "linear" IPTV channels on boxes like BT YouView then just look just the same as Freeview ones.

If there ever was a move to moving channels to IP distribution then the equipment would make it as easy to use as a Freeview box.

I also suspect that any deal to take Freeview from the public would mean that everyone got access to the 4G network for free, at least for watching the TV.

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Briantist's 38,905 posts GB flag
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