Ilfracombe viewers to get Freeview boost in battle against Welsh signals

Viewers in the North Devon town of Ilfracombe who were less than impressed with receiving Welsh TV following the digital switchover in 2009 look set to benefit as Digital UK data shows the town is in line for a power boost from its local relay transmitter next May [2013].

Ilfracombe. Relay seen on the hill above.
When the multiplex transmitting ITV1 Westcountry, Channel 4 and Channel 5 - known as Multiplex D3&4/PSB2 -  is moved from the 800 MHz frequency band in preparation for the introduction of 4G mobile broadband, all TV multiplexes from the Ilfracombe transmitter will be boosted in power. Effected radiated power or ERP of the services will increase from 56 to 112 watts. This will help counteract interfering signals from Wales on the same frequencies.

D3&4 will move from UHF channel 61 to channel 49 in May 2013, meaning that local viewers will need to retune their TVs. Viewers closer to the top of the hill near Mullacott Cross who can receive the main Huntshaw Cross transmitter will also need to retune due to frequency changes on the main transmitter, too.

Although the month of the change has been pencilled in, the exact day/date has not yet been announced by Digital UK, the organisation overseeing the changes.

The town hit the headlines in autumn 2009 when viewers found they could no longer receive a consistent service through their aerial. 

One notable problem that follows the signal boost is that interference from 4G/LTE broadband services using the cleared D3&4 frequency and adjacent frequencies up the band could diminish the full benefit of the stronger signal, unless good filters are applied to all aerials in the area in order the receive the TV services on the frequency band just under the part being sold off for 4G. Ofcom has been recently consulting about digital TV and 4G co-existence, with the results of the consultation due out in the coming months.

Ilfracombe sits on the North Devon coast, and has its own relay transmitter because the town is hidden in a dip behind a ridge of higher ground shielding it from the main Huntshaw Cross, North Devon transmitter. Ilfracombe enjoys panoramic views across the Bristol Channel to Wales. Coming in the reverse direction are TV signals, primarily from transmitters at Kilvey Hill (Swansea) and Carmel, enabling good Welsh TV reception.

However, the Carmel transmitter was assigned the same frequencies post switchover as the Ilfracombe relay. This meant that viewers could one minute receive local Westcountry-based TV services and the next minute receive services transmitted from Wales on the same frequency, depending on tidal and atmospheric conditions. Various receivers reacted in different ways, and generally the viewer was left without a reliable TV reception. In addition, some receivers stored the lower frequency services from Kilvey Hill first, meaning that Welsh channels appeared first, and English services in the 800s in the channel listings.

Although the Ilfracombe transmitter is a so-called 'Freeview Lite' relay transmitter, which does not carry the full range of commercial Freeview channels (so no ITV3, for example), viewers could benefit from receiving the commercial services from Carmel. Unfortunately, it is exactly these services that co-channelled with the local Ilfracombe transmitter. Some viewers in the area can receive the commercial services from an alternative Welsh transmitter within range of the North Devon coast to complement the local offering of the main services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5.
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