A scheme with a £180m pot of money to resolve interference problems between those 4G networks that utilise the 800 MHz frequency band and Freeview TV was announced back in February. Now we have Communications Minister Ed Vaizey detailing how he perceives this scheme as working. The £180m is to be taken from the money paid by the mobile operators as part of the 4G auction process.
The fact that only 4G networks utilising the 800 MHz spectrum will potentially affect Freeview TV is an important point to make, and while it is expected that this band will be popular in the 4G auction, there are other frequency bands up for grabs. The lowest frequency band has the advantage of a better range from the base station, and better penetration into buildings. Though to what extent these advantages are weakened by possible requirements to reduce mast power output to reduce interference is a big unknown.
Ofcom originally indicated that it thought 2.3 million households would be affected by the 4G issue, but once you break this down to households who rely on Freeview for their primary viewing it is a smaller figure of 900,000.
"It is these 900,000 homes which should receive the assistance necessary to enable them to continue to view the services they are used to.
The support offered should be as follows:
- the provision of information;
- the provision of filters free of charge (on a proactive and reactive basis); and
- platform changes where fitting a filter alone cannot restore an acceptable level of TV reception.
I have also decided that extra support, including the installation of filters where needed, should be offered to vulnerable consumers, where "vulnerable" is defined on the same criteria applied under DSO."Extract from open letter by Ed Vaizey Communications Minister
Those who require extra support, e.g. fitting a filter due to a masthead amplifier, will get a voucher for £50+VAT, based on the figure that a typical charge from an installer should be at this price. Not all homes will find fitting a filter will fix things, some 38,500 fall into this category, and where other tweaks (e.g. limited base station power) does not resolve the problem, extra money will be spent to provide Freesat or cable TV. If 4G handsets and dongles support suitable alternate bands, one extreme option would be to turn off the 800MHz band in very badly affected areas.
With an Ofcom consultation underway already on pushing 4G down the spectrum lower into the 700MHz band, then any filters installed may actually need changing in a few years. The EU is keen on creating a harmonised 700MHz band across Europe for 4G mobile broadband, so chances are further changes to Freeview are very likely. We guess this means that those who qualified as a Digital Installer for the Digital Switchover, may be in work for a good few years yet.