DTT frequency move as Ofcom prepares for ‘capacity crunch’

Ofcom is preparing for the reasignment of further spectrum for mobile data services. The regulator says its plans seek to ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial television (DTT), but doing so will require viewers to retune and some may also need new aerials.

The announcement of a reduction in DTT spectrum comes less than a month after the completion of the UK’s analogue switch-off programme. In a statement Ofcom said it needed to ensure alternative frequencies were available for the introduction of mobile broadband before the end of the decade.

“For the vast majority of viewers, moving DTT to different frequencies will require a simple retune of existing TV equipment. However, a small minority of consumers may need to change their roof top aerials – likely not before 2018. Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers”.

Data released today by Ofcom shows the amount of data being consumed in a month over the country’s mobile networks is more than twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes).

By 2030 the regulator estimates the amount could be 80 times higher than today.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G. “Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally.”

However, Ofcom’s announcement was greeted with caution by transmission company Arqiva: “While Arqiva welcomes Ofcom’s clear long-term commitment to ensuring a robust future for Freeview, Ofcom has yet to make the case for this change and the huge disruption that would be caused to TV viewers as a result. Arqiva believes that in the event of such a change being made, it will be vital to ensure that the necessary support is made available to ensure a smooth transition,” said Arqiva’s Charles Constable, who is also chair of Freeview.

Broadcasters led by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) fear a landgrab by telecommunications operators, who are seeking to build broadband infrastructure, using capacity in the 700MHz range used for terrestrial broadcasting.

They believe that the next ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) could see a reduction in the amount of broadcast spectrum allocated.