- Could all terrestrial TV frequencies be cleared after 2030?
The consultation raises the prospects that digital terrestrial television (Freeview) could be axed altogether after 2030, with the frequencies in the UHF TV frequency band reused entirely for mobile broadband services.
Already, Ofcom is looking at freeing up some TV frequencies - the 700 MHz frequency band - after 2018 for so-called '5G' mobile services. Earlier this year, the 800 MHz frequency band was cleared of Freeview channels to make way for 4G.
In the consultation, Ofcom states that there is a
"wider debate over the longer-term role and future of DTT, beyond the likely timescales for a potential release of the 700 MHz band.
"This debate is likely to focus on the potential for alternative distribution technologies to DTT, including IPTV (especially as superfast broadband availability increases) and satellite to enable a DTT switch off at some point in the long term."
However, the regulator stressed that for the time being, terrestrial TV is the "most appropriate method of meeting the objective of delivering universal free-to-view access to PSB channels."
One of the options being analysed is giving mobile data access to the whole TV frequency band. Traditional TV would be delivered by platforms such as Freesat. According to Ofcom:
"this would mean losing the provision of DTT in its current form and the important role it now plays in the UK television market. This includes providing free to view access to PSB channels, although as noted above Freesat or other new platforms (e.g. IPTV) could potentially fulfil these roles in time. As such, an illustration of the costs of mobile services gaining access to the whole band might consider the cost of transitioning all DTT homes to Freesat. Analysys Mason estimated this cost as part of a recent study as £1.7 billion."
In previous consultations, mobile phone company Vodafone has been supportive of the conversion of TV frequencies for mobile broadband usage. However, such conversions push the cost of receiving services onto the consumer. In the 800 MHz frequency band, where once free-to-air services were transmitted, users can now stream some of the same TV programmes via 4G, from £26 a month on a SIM only plan. Vodafone previously voiced its opposition to the temporary use of frequencies in the 600 MHz TV frequency band, which, starting from next week, are to be used for more Freeview HD channels.
Digital UK, the platform manager for the digital terrestrial television service, including Freeview, has previously questioned the need to take more frequencies out of the reach of broadcasters. In the summer, Digital UK stated:
"Ofcom should be careful to make sure that these benefits are evaluated in light of the alternative ways of meeting demand for greater mobile broadband capacity, e.g. small cells, Wi-Fi offloading, and alternate bands of spectrum. The benefits attributed to using the 700MHz band should be the marginal benefits after other available methods of meeting demand have been exhausted."
The consultation, which also covers the future usage of other frequency bands, including former military frequencies, is open until 30 January 2014.