Freeview is (almost) 10...

The UK's free to air digital terrestrial television service Freeview is now just days away from its 10th anniversary on air.

Freeview became the term for all digital terrestrial television in the UK, although technically "Freeview" is an organisation set up by the major broadcasters to market free to air digital terrestrial TV, with the broadcasters and multiplex operators through Digital UK and DMOL controlling the technical aspects of the service. DMOL, for instance is responsible for the Freeview EPG.

The service officially launched at 5am on the 30th October 2002, when the BBC and Crown Castle (later National Grid Wireless, then Arqiva) launched services on the three multiplexes that were previously licensed to ITV Digital, which had collapsed and gone off air earlier in the year.

Channels that initially launched with Freeview included UK History (now known as Yesterday), The Hits (now 4Music) and TMF (now VIVA).


Initially only available on ex-ITV digital boxes and a handful of free-to-air digital TV receivers, the service rapidly expanded as digital set top boxes - which retailed at £99 at launch - fell in price. By 2004, numerous set top boxes were available under £60 and millions tuned in to the service.

Freeview launched with a more robust signal than that offered by ITV Digital. However, in the run up to digital switchover, many areas continued to suffer from poor reception. Digital switchover brought HD and improved signal power, consigning many high gain aerials and amplifiers to the scrap heap. Early Freeview models failed to be compatible with changes to the Freeview signal, but newer HD models  were finally able to tune channels based on the region a viewer is in, to the relief of viewers in places such as the North West, who had Welsh services added in their line up during switchover in 2009.

Mainly rural areas on relay transmitters began to receive a reduced Freeview service at switchover, although viewers who realised too late that they weren't going to get the full Freeview channel range weren't too impressed at the perceived lack of communication on this matter. Freesat launched in 2008, initially complementing Freeview's coverage and from 2009 providing the full range of ITV channels that were no longer available on relay transmitters.

Sky initially provided Sky Sports News to the platform, however as Freeview became a strong competitor and ended up being in more households than Sky's own satellite service, it was pulled. Freeview has subsequently gained Challenge, Food Network UK, with Al Jazeera English and Russia Today adding an international dimension to the service. Some viewers have critised the multiplex operator's decision to squeeze more channels and reduce picture resolution on most standard definition broadcasters, but the Freeview model has overall been seen as a success, with similar services launching in Australia and New Zealand.

Almost ten years after launch, Freeview is now built in to every regular TV set on sale in the UK and from the 24th October will reach its final total coverage of the UK, providing just over 98% of the population with terrestrial access to the main digital channels and around 90% of the population gaining access to the full Freeview offering.

The next ten years
Troubles loom ahead on the horizon though: next year's introduction of 4G mobile broadband on former terrestrial television frequencies has triggered another series of retunes in many regions and Freeview has found itself facing interference from the 4G signal. Viewers may require a filter in order to continue receiving the service beyond next year. In addition, questions about the future use of another chunk of spectrum currently used for Freeview add uncertainty to the future of television delivered via a land-based transmitter network.

However, over the next two years, local TV stations will begin to appear in the Freeview line up across many of the UK's larger towns and cities.

Ultimately, many analysts expect the next ten years to bring about a switch to a more modern standard of terrestrial broadcasting - DVB-T2 - already used for Freeview HD, to enable Freeview to continue offering the same quantity of channels using less frequencies, with niche channels being delivered via broadband internet through platforms such as YouView and Connect TV rather than via the traditional method of via a digital multiplex through the transmitter network. Protecting themselves against the change of distribution, transmitter company Arqiva took over Connect TV earlier this year.

The next ten years could end up being more interesting than the first ten years of Freeview.

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