UK comms regulator Ofcom is to proceed with an award of the 600 MHz spectrum band (550 to 606 MHz) to digital terrestrial TV (DTT) transmission company Arqiva, on an interim basis.
The new capacity could triple the number of High Definition (HD) channels currently available on DTT, creating the opportunity for TV viewers to receive up to ten additional HD channels through their rooftop aerial.
As the multiplex operator, Arqiva will build a new network which will enable a significant increase in the number of high definition channels broadcast on the DTT/Freeview platform. Arqiva expects to confirm content agreements over the next few weeks.
The new services will help encourage the adoption of Freeview HD compatible television sets and set top boxes. They will also be available on YouView set top boxes.
Charles Constable, Managing Director of Arqiva’s Digital Platforms division, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this new licence. It will enable us to add a much broader range of HD services to Freeview, helping it remain the UK’s most popular way to watch television.
“This represents a significant investment by Arqiva in the long-term future of the DTT platform and will increase the diversity and quality of the content available – a key policy objective for Ofcom.”
The new licence was awarded following an open application process, which took place earlier in the year. The licence is effective immediately and has been awarded for a minimum period of five years.
The 600 MHz spectrum, which covers the range 550 to 606 MHz, was cleared of analogue TV on a region-by-region basis during the UK’s digital TV switchover. This programme, delivered successfully by Arqiva, completed last year.
The move 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 per cent of the UK population – above the minimum requirement of 50 per cent.
Viewers will need a HD-compatible DTT receiver in order to access the new services. About 20 per cent 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.
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 MHz 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 broadband. Industry forecasts suggest that mobile broadband use could be 80 times higher than today by 2030, fuelled by growing use of smartphones and tablets.
Ilse Howling, Managing Director, Freeview said the platform was “delighted” by the announcements from Ofcom, the BBC and Arqiva.“Importantly, this is good news for millions of Freeview HD viewers whose appetite for more HD channels has been growing since Freeview HD launched in 2010. The new services will also encourage further take-up of HD equipment,” she predicted.