Comment: Why don't multiplex operators put spare capacity to good use?


With the technical lockdown on the digital terrestrial TV platform around the Olympic and Paralympic games looming (when there will be no switchovers, retunes or major changes to Freeview), it is clear that there will be still some spare capacity unused this summer.

Due to technical changes affecting the commercial multiplexes in recent months, there is extra bandwidth available in post-switchover regions - that's all of UK but North East England and Northern Ireland. Consequently, around 9Mbps is currently unused on the Arqiva A multiplex, and around 3Mbps is dormant on the SDN multiplex.

After the BBC offered its extra Olympic streams to digital platform operators, Sky offered to host the channels on satellite for both its and Freesat's customers. Virgin Media also took up the offer. On Freeview, the spare capacity available could have been put to use temporarily for a few extra Olympic channels. Both Arqiva and SDN, as gatekeepers to this capacity, could have offered to take some of the extra BBC Olympic channels to temporarily populate empty space, like the BBC has done on its Freeview HD multiplex.

Unless a new service suddenly goes live out of the blue on either SDN or Arqiva A multiplexes in the next fortnight, up to 4 additional standard definition Olympic channels, with an average bandwidth allocation of 3Mbps could have been offered to viewers in post-switchover regions with access to the full set of Freeview channels.

This would not have affected existing services and their bandwidth. The capacity is additional, and is currently not being used at all. Of course, there would be viewers receiving from a relay site that does not carry the SDN or Arqiva multiplexes who would not be able to receive the service, and would complain about licence fee money being spent on services they could not receive, but that is currently the case not just for viewers on relay transmitters but all viewers who receive Freeview via their primary set.

With all that capacity lying dormant, it seems that Freeview viewers who want more Olympic coverage need to turn online to get these 24 channels or quickly nip out and get a Freesat dish...
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