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New HD channels on terrestrial TV

July 16, 2013

Ofcom is today creating the opportunity for TV viewers to receive up to ten additional high-definition channels through their rooftop aerial.

The new capacity will be made available on digital terrestrial TV (DTT) by using airwaves freed up by the digital switchover, located at 600 MHz, and could triple the number of HD channels currently available on the platform.

Ofcom will award the licence to run the new ‘multiplexes’ – the infrastructure needed to broadcast the channels – to transmission company Arqiva, the sole applicant for the licence.

The BBC has already expressed interest in launching new HD services. These and other channels could go live in some parts of the country by early 2014.

The move from analogue to digital TV, successfully completed at the end of 2012, cleared two frequency bands for new uses. Following consultation, Ofcom decided that one of these bands should made available for additional DTT capacity on an interim basis, as originally proposed. The other was recently auctioned for 4G mobile services.

Arqiva has indicated that the new channels will be broadcast to up to 70% of the UK population – above the minimum requirement of 50%.

HD Freeview receivers

Viewers will need a HD-compatible DTT receiver in order to access the new services. About 20% of households already have such a device to watch existing HD channels on the platform.

This proportion is growing rapidly with most new televisions now sold with inbuilt HD tuners. It is thought the addition of these new HD channels will help to further encourage take-up of HD receivers and so help the transition of the DTT platform to the DVB-T2 transmission standard, which will make more efficient use of the limited available spectrum1. The wider range of HD content available on DTT will also continue to benefit viewers.

Protecting the future of DTT

To avoid a potential data ‘capacity crunch’ and protect the long-term future of the DTT platform, Ofcom last year proposed to reserve the 600 MHz2 band for DTT. This could facilitate the possible future use of the 700MHz band, currently occupied by DTT, for mobile broadband services.

However, this would not happen before 2018 at the earliest as decisions to enable such use have yet to be made; therefore Ofcom is allowing the DTT platform to use this capacity for HD services on an interim basis until at least 2018.

There is growing international support for use of the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband3. Industry forecasts suggest that mobile broadband use could be 80 times higher than today by 20304, fuelled by growing use of smartphones and tablets.

A statement on Ofcom’s decision is available here.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1.      The HD channels will be broadcast using the transmission technology DVB-T2, which when used together with the MPEG-4 video compression technology are four times more efficient than their DVB-T & MPEG-2  predecessors. These standards are already used to broadcast the existing HD channels on DTT.

2.      The 600 MHz band will also be used by White Space Devices (WSDs) and wireless microphones. WSDs will make use of unused gaps in the airwaves, called ‘white spaces’, which will exist between the TV multiplexes. These white spaces will be used to transmit and receive wireless signals, used for a range of applications such as broadband access in rural areas. Recycling spectrum in this way is a highly efficient use of a very limited resource.

3.      At the 2012 World Radio Conference, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Northern Asia passed a resolution signalling an intention to allow the 700 MHz band to be used for mobile broadband. A final decision will be taken at the next World Radio Conference in 2015.

4.      See Real Wireless report on techniques for increasing the capacity of wireless broadband networks.

5.      As stated in the original consultation, if Ofcom were only to receive on Notice of Intention to Apply for the multiplex licences, that applicant, as long as it met the statutory requirements, would be awarded the licences.

6.      The multiplex licences have a minimum term until the end of 2018.

7.      Ofcom’s principal duty under the Communications Act 2003 is to further the interests of citizens, and the interests of consumers where appropriate by promoting competition. Ofcom is also required to secure the optimal use for wireless telegraphy of the electro-magnetic spectrum.

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