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Monday, 7 May 2012

Heathfield, Hastings and Tunbridge Wells are next to switch to digital

Following a short gap in the digital switchover schedule to allow for some post-switchover frequency changes and power ups at other sites, the switchover programme continues during the early hours of Wednesday 30th May 2012 for viewers in East Sussex and south west of Kent.

heathfield transmitter mast
Heathfield transmitter mast, popping out of the trees.

30th May
Just after midnight, analogue BBC Two will be taken off air for good. A short spell of engineering work will take place at local transmitters to deactivate the analogue service and to power-up the new high powered BBC digital transmitters - in some cases from new transmitting antenna on the mast. The high power BBC service will be on a new frequency to the previously low-powered BBC Freeview service, which had very patchy coverage.

In most cases, the BBC's standard definition digital TV channels will launch on the frequency vacated by BBC Two analogue. Therefore, switchover body Digital UK is recommending viewers to retune after 6am on the 30th May, when the engineering work will be complete. An exception is made for viewers receiving from a local relay transmitters, who may need to wait until later in the day for the engineers to visit their local site.

Low powered service until stage 2
Other digital channels that are part of the Freeview service will remain at low power and on existing frequencies until stage 2, a fortnight later on Wednesday 13th June, when the remaining analogue TV channels are closed down, freeing up more frequencies that can be used for full power digital. The end of switchover in East Sussex and south west Kent also marks the start of switchover for the rest of Kent, as services are moved around the frequency band like a jigsaw puzzle.

Duplicated channels
Between the two stages of switchover, viewers who already have a Freeview service in East Sussex and south west Kent will receive duplicates of BBC Four, CBeebies, BBC Parliament and BBC radio, due to receiving a mix between post-switchover Freeview (where the BBC's standard definition services occupy just one high capacity multiplex) and pre-switchover Freeview (where the BBC's standard definition services use 1 1/2 lower capacity multiplexes). Services on the digital multiplex causing the duplicate BBC channels also include Sky Sports 1 and 2 for BT Vision and Top Up TV viewers until stage 2. This multiplex is not regionalised and cannot be reconfigured in a particular area to remove duplicate channels.

Reception changes
The process beginning on 30th May aims to address a long-standing problem with poor terrestrial television reception in parts of this area due to local geography and the need to co-ordinate frequency use with London and Anglia TV regions on one side and France and Belgium on the other side. 

A new international agreement has been reached with France, which will allow digital services to transmit in all directions from the Heathfield TV transmitter mast. Currently digital servies are only transmitted northwards away from France, preventing reception in Eastbourne and Hastings. Some viewers that needed to receive TV services from Hastings due to a lack of coverage from Heathfield may be able to move their aerials to receive the Freeview service direct from Heathfield.

A new relay transmitter on the Hastings Direct building in Bexhill will be launched at switchover, initially carrying the BBC-A multiplex (BBC standard definition channels) from 30th May, followed by the D3&4 (ITV, C4, C5) and BBC-B (Freeview HD) multiplexes a fortnight later. This will aim to improve reception of the core public service broadcaster digital channels in Bexhill, where reception from Heathfield continues to be unreliable after switchover. The Bexhill relay will transmit with a substantial 400 watts of effective radiated power, making it one of the most powerful relays in the area.

Due to the lack of frequencies available in the South East, the Tunbridge Wells transmitter will operate as a single frequency network (SFN) with parent transmitter Heathfield. This will be done in a controlled way so that the signals are enhanced in the small overlap area between transmitters. At switchover, the signals change slightly, so that the digital signal is made up of more "carriers". This will kill off any ITV Digital or first generation Freeview box still in use, but allows these SFNs to exist - without the change the two signals would destroy reception instead of enhance it.

Last month, last minute frequency changes were announced for the Newhaven relay, which will improve coverage in the Newhaven area and reduce co-channel interference from France. Like Bexhill, Newhaven will have a relatively powerful relay after switchover.

Full Freeview service
The full Freeview service with all available channels will only be available to viewers receiving the signals from the Heathfield, Hastings and Tunbridge Wells transmitters. 

Relay sites will only carry the four former analogue channels, plus Channel 5, ITV2, E4, More 4, ITV1+1, BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News, BBC Parliament, BBC Red Button and a number of BBC radio stations. Viewers with Freeview HD devices will also receive 4 (soon to be 5) HD channels, largely consisting of HD versions of the main channels. Commercial digital multiplex operators have expressed no interest in making their services available at all relay sites due to it not being commercially viable. Due to the lack of available frequencies in the region, it might not have been possible to launch all services had the desire been there, mirroring the lack of Channel 5 analogue in most places since 1997.

Elderly and vulnerable persons are able to access the Switchover Help Scheme, which will provide a digital receiver, plus installation and support. Further details are at

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