Ofcom has this evening confirmed in a statement that it will be releasing frequencies currently used for Freeview TV services much quicker than originally planned, so that 4G services can be rolled out sooner. Viewers in the East Midlands will need to retune Freeview five months earlier than originally scheduled.
This announcement comes at the end of a day of talks between the mobile phone operators, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Ofcom and other stakeholders, and the night before the very first 4G clearance retune takes place in parts of West Sussex.
Following discussions with TV broadcasters, Digital UK and the transmission company Arqiva, Ofcom has secured the earlier release of frequencies that were previously used for digital terrestrial broadcasting. Following digital switchover, all areas of the UK have seen TV services cleared from UHF channel 63 and above, but UHF channels 61 and 62 are still being used by TV in many regions, as this part of the frequency band was not originally intended for clearance for other uses. UHF channels 61-68 are known as the 800 MHz band, earmarked for 4G.
According to Ofcom's statement, the move "means that more UK consumers will be able to benefit from a competitive market for super-fast mobile broadband sooner than previously possible", thus providing a more even playing field between O2, Vodafone and Three with EE (owner of the Orange and T-Mobile brand names in the UK), who have been granted a head start by being allowed to launch 4G services in their existing frequency allocation.
Ofcom stated that the clearance date for TV transmitters in Oxford and Waltham, "which would otherwise prevent deployment of 4G mobile services to around 9 million people in cities including London, Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield", will be brought forward by five months from October to May 2013.
Similarly, the clearance date for transmitters in Scotland, will be brought forward by more than three months to April 2013. Although transmitters in Edinburgh and Glasgow are not affected by the clearance, transmitters in other parts of Scotland are seen to be potential interferers with a future 4G service in the Central Belt.
Once 4G services are up and running, viewers may require a filter to block unwanted reception and interference from 4G base stations, with all TVs on sale today still designed to receive services in the frequencies being cleared by TV for 4G. A mitigation company, to be set up by the winning bidders for the 800 MHz spectrum, will administer a mitigation scheme to affected households. The proposed scheme has been criticised by broadcasters, MP Anna Soubry and Freeview's managing director Ilse Howling as not being sufficient enough to mitigate against interference for all members of society, for example in the cases of viewers receiving services via a communal aerial or via an indoor aerial. Freeview's Ilse Howling stated her belief earlier this year that "the polluter [of the former TV frequencies] should pay" for the mitigation costs, above and beyond the £180 million currently set aside.
a516digital.com's 4G clearance retunes page has been updated with the initial changes: http://www.a516digital.com/p/4g-clearance-retunes.html