End of an analogue era paves way for 4G mobile

24 October 2012

Ofcom today welcomed the successful completion of the UK's switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television. This has ensured that all UK households now have access to wide range of digital television channels and has also paved the way for the next generation of mobile broadband.

The switchover to digital has freed up much needed capacity that will be used to deliver the fourth generation (4G) of mobile services. At the end of 2012, Ofcom will start the process of auctioning the Digital Dividend, the airwaves previously occupied by analogue television.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: "The UK's switchover to digital has been a huge success. Not only has is created more TV choice for consumers, it has also freed up vital capacity that will be used to deliver mobile broadband services to 98% of cities, towns and villages across the UK.

"Now that switchover is complete, Ofcom is looking forward to delivering the 4G auction as the next step in delivering new higher speed mobile broadband services."

End of the analogue era

The switchover to digital-terrestrial television marks the end of more than 70 years of analogue broadcasting.

Over the past five years, region by region, the UK has gradually switched off its five national analogue TV channels and replaced them with over 70 digital channels and created new capacity for mobile broadband services. The process has been run by Digital UK, broadcasters and transmission company Arqiva.

Northern Ireland made the switch today, making it the final UK Nation to broadcast analogue TV. This completes a long history of analogue TV broadcasting in the UK that extends back to 2 November 1936 when the first public television broadcasting service was launched. The switchover process began in April 2004 when Ofcom published the blueprint for turning off analogue television in the UK. A switchover trial followed in Whitehaven in 2007, and the rest of the UK has since been switched to digital region by region.

Ofcom's subsequent role in digital switchover was to support the programme in three areas: planning; licensing and international coordination.

Switchover in numbers

  • 1,154: Ofcom produced a coverage plan for all 1,154 digital TV transmitter sites, which secured near universal access to digital public service broadcasting services. At the same time, the plan was designed in a way that cleared new capacity, termed the "Digital Dividend", for other uses such as 4G mobile services.
  • 200: At each stage of the switchover timetable Ofcom issued over 200 licence variations to reflect the frequency, transmitter and power level changes required.
  • 140: Since 2004 Ofcom has attended over 140 meetings with neighbouring countries to secure UK frequencies for digital terrestrial TV.
Digital TV fast facts
  • On average viewers watched 4 hours of television per day in 2011; up from 3 hours 34 minutes 3.57 hours in 2002 when Freeview launched (source: BARB).
  • The average number of TV sets per household in 2012 was 1.92; slightly down from 2.03 in 2002 (source: BARB establishment survey).
  • Number of channels broadcasting in the UK in 2002 was 236.  Figure for 2012 is 523.
  • 9.3 million flat screen TVs were purchased in 2011 - equivalent to one in every three households. In addition, sales estimates show that in Q1 2012, over a third (35%) of sales were for 'super-large' (33" to 42") or 'jumbo' screens (43" and over). In comparison, in 2001 the equivalent figures for super-large and jumbo TV screens was just 1% (source: Gfk).
  • HD TV sets have proved popular, and have led to a rapid increase in the number of HD channels - from the BBC launch in 2006 of the first channel to be broadcast in HD, to the 65 channels available across all TV platforms in 2011.
  • In 2012, according to Ofcom's technology tracker, 70% of UK homes owned an HD-ready TV set.
  • In 2010, 3D TV sets came onto the market, and while penetration is still relatively low, take-up in the UK is expected to build on the 700,000 sets already sold in 2011.
  • According to Ofcom's Technology Tracker, 5% of UK households with a TV own a smart TV. However, this figure is set to rise, as smart TV set sales have doubled in the past year and now represent a fifth of all TV sales.
  • Since 2012, 2.9 million smart tv sets have been sold, and in Q1 2012, sales represented one fifth of total TVs sold. . According to Ofcom research (2012), among owners of smart TVs, 65% said they had used the internet connection on their TV. This is despite the fact almost half (27%) smart-TV owners said that internet functionality was not a consideration for them when choosing a new set.
  • Around half (47%) of UK adults now have a digital video recorder (DVR) at home (Q1, 2012). Among DVR homes, time-shifting represents 15% of total viewing. This has changed little since 2006 (13%). The results indicate that viewing programmes as they are broadcast remains the most popular way of watching television.
  • Among UK adults with home internet, 37% watch online catch-up TV at home (Q1, 2012), a small increase of 2 percentage points versus the same period in 2011. 16-24 year olds are most likely to use catch-up services (48%).