We may have spent the spare money from Digital Switchover Fund too soon!
Ofcom is consulting on long term changes to the radio spectrum below 1GHz, looking at timeframes of 2020 to 2030. Planning so far ahead is crucial, as decisions made in the next year or two will govern how devices like Freeview set top boxes are designed.
The concern is that both the USA and Asia-Pacific parts of the world are looking to assign the 700MHz band to mobile broadband. The 700MHz frequency represents an ideal band for mobile broadband as it gives good penetration into buildings and coverage is wider meaning less towers would be needed to cover a given area. Projections on mobile broadband usage show that the current spectrum available would struggle, and that is even allowing for handing off a lot of traffic to Wi-Fi and Femtocell's that people would hook up to their broadband at home.
The real unknown is how attached will we as a nation be towards our Public Service channels and Freeview transmissions in a few years. LoveFilm Instant and Netflix may already be changing a generations habits, and with other IPTV developments on the way like YouView we may see traditional TV viewing wither. The internet is far from an ideal medium for broadcasting live TV to millions, but the growth of multi-channel TV has meant that shows are ecstatic at viewing figures of 10 million, compared to the 20 to 25 million of a decade or two ago. With penetration of high bandwidth fibre deeper into the local loop, and better use of multi-cast there is no reason why a fibre rich local network cannot replicate what Freeview offers.
The current switchover from analogue to digital TV is just completing, it is unlikely that another switchover, perhaps requiring replacement set top boxes and possible aerial changes again will go down well.