Julian Clover looks back on Whitehaven’s switch to digital transmission with the man responsible.
One week on and Peter Heslop, DSO programme director at transmission company Arqiva is looking back on the first phase of the UK digital switchover programme with a certain degree of satisfaction. The process has only just begun, not only do the remaining three available analogue channels need to be converted, but there is the not inconsiderable matter of the rest of the country.
“It’s very early days in the programme, but DSO1 at Whitehaven, had there been any such thing as a textbook switchover, then that would have been it,” says Heslop. Concerns over how long the process might take were soon dispelled. Heslop had allowed two hours to bring the digital channels online, but the PSB multiplex was initiated at 02.37, some 37 minutes after BBC Two’s analogue signal when dark.
The switchover process for each of the sub regions will be a two-stage process whereby one multiplex switches over on one date and four weeks later the rest of the multiplexes are switched on. In the early hours of October 17, BBC Two’s analogue signal was replaced by ITV1, freeing up capacity for the first digital multiplex in an area that was previously part of the 27% without a DTT service. Whitehaven’s three remaining analogue channels – BBC One, ITV1 and Channel 4 – will be switched off on November 14. “The analogue BBC Two channel is in released spectrum, so had we placed the BBC multiplex on that frequency it would have had to change again,” explains Heslop. “The principal driver for this is the release of spectrum for other purposes having decided how much TV is going to use.”
Whitehaven viewers will be disappointed if they are expecting a full line-up of digital services. As a general rule of thumb if there is no digital TV service now then it is likely that only the two BBC multiplexes and the shared ITV/Channel 4 multiplex will be made available – the combination of technical factors and commercial realities. “It’s always been the case that the commercial multiplexes will go to fewer stations than the PSBs,” says Heslop. “It’s only the PSBs which go to all 1154 sites”. Arrangements are being made to carry Five within the public service multiplexes.
The next transmitter to switch will also be in the old Border Television region. Selkirk presents another challenge because it is a main transmitter rather than a relay as was the case with Whitehaven. “The flagship project was three small relays stations, but Selkirk has 11 relay stations that all have to be switched on the same night.”
The date next November, in line with the government-mandated timetable – will be announced in the next few days.