The BBC and Channel 4 have proposed that additional HD channels should be added to Freeview. The channels would use spare capacity in the spectrum, recently cleared during the digital switchover.
The broadcasting regular Ofcom looks set to approve these suggestions. The proposals [PDF] were released by Ofcom as part of a long document outlining future plans for the UHF spectrum. Part of this looks at the likely requirement to sell off additional amounts of spectrum for mobile broadband about six years from now.
The switch off of analogue TV left spare capacity in two parts of the airwaves: in the 600MHz and 800MHz bands. 800MHz is being used for 4G from 2013. This leaves vacant space at 600MHz, which could be used for new Freeview HD channels, as recommended by the BBC, C4 and broadcasting transmitter operator Arqiva.
New Freeview HD channels may include a third BBC high-def service, extra Red Button content (accessed in a similar way to the 2012 Olympics) and one or two extra HD channels from C4’s line-up.
This arrangement may be temporary – until around 2018 – because Ofcom is under pressure to harmonise the 700MHz band with Europe and other parts of the world, which are using or plan to use the 700MHz band for 4G or 5G mobile data transmissions. This would mean that the digital TV broadcasts currently in the 700MHz band will need to be moved out of the way, causing a “squeeze” elsewhere in the bandwidth. It could force out a number of the channels on Freeview.
One solution to keeping an expanded number of Freeview channels (both HD and SD) on air after 2017 would be to move over to the DVB-T2 standard. This is used in all Freeview HD equipment and is more space-efficient. It can also be used for broadcasting standard definition channels, again using less spectrum capacity. However, it would render any non-Freeview-HD receivers and TVs incompatible. It’s reckoned that a majority of TV equipment may have migrated to DVB-T2 by 2018 as consumers gradually upgrade, but this would leave a significant number at risk of “going dark”.
In effect, the UK would be facing a process similar to a second digital switchover, where retunes and possibly new equipment or aerials would be needed for some homes.
Would you welcome new HD channels on Freeview or do you think satellite, cable and IPTV are more efficient ways of delivering high-def TV? Discuss it on the Trusted Reviews Twitter and Facebook feeds or via the comments boxes below.