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Switchoff: Swiss to ditch digital terrestrial TV

TV aerials are about to become redundant in Switzerland.

The Swiss government has paved the way for the country to become the first nation in Europe to ditch digital terrestrial TV.

In a new concession, or charter, which commences on 1st January 2019, the government has provided public broadcaster SRG the "opportunity" (i.e. its consent) to switch off digital terrestrial TV by the end of 2019.

Digital terrestrial TV replaced traditional analogue TV signals received via a rooftop or indoor aerial as part of a digital switchover across all European countries during the last decade. Switzerland completed its switchover in 2008.

Terrestrial TV is now distributed in Europe under various names, including Freeview (UK), Digitenne (Netherlands), Saorview (Republic of Ireland) and TNT (France).

Swiss authorities say only a "few" households still used digital terrestrial TV in the country. For the most part, only the public service broadcaster SRG's channels have been available, with limited signal overspill from neighbouring countries in border territories.

High-speed broadband internet, through which IPTV services are available, plus well-developed cable networks provide most Swiss households with television services.

Facilitating IPTV growth, Swisscom aims to make high-speed fibre optic broadband available to every municipality by 2021. As an alternative option, householders can continue to opt to receive their TV service via the Hot Bird satellite by applying for a Swiss TV "sat access card".

Increasingly, countries are either deciding to switch their terrestrial TV networks to the newer DVB-T2 standard with a switch to all-HD broadcasting or just to move straight to a internet and cable-dominated service, although this has raised concerns over free-to-air, unmetered access to public service television. The UK is currently partly switched to DVB-T2, but with no confirmed timescales to complete the switch. Within the industry, it's anticipated the UK's terrestrial TV service will be axed around 2030, with broadcasters already pushing hybrid terrestrial/internet (IP) platforms such as Freeview Play and YouView, which allow viewers to seamlessly move from terrestrial to IP content.

While Switzerland is busy turning its back on digital terrestrial TV, the same is not true for digital terrestrial radio DAB+: the country is still on-track to switch-off its FM signals in the next few years, following the course of Norway, which became the first country to switch-off national FM networks in favour of digital broadcasts.

SRG broadcasts television channels in three languages under the names SRF, RTS, RSI, serving the German, French and Italian speaking communities. A fourth language service in Romansh - RTR - does not have its own TV service. The digital terrestrial TV service enables each area of Switzerland to receive the main public service channels in their language, plus at least one channel from the other two language services. The signal is configured to be very robust, given the mountainous terrain that is covered by the service.

In recent years, SRG has reduced the power of its digital terrestrial TV services to cut back on overlapping signals into other countries, including Germany, where cable operators have traditionally offered Swiss TV in areas with terrestrial coverage. However, issues surrounding broadcast rights of events such as the Champions League have forced the Swiss broadcaster to restrict or black-out access by reducing power.

Belgium and the Netherlands are seen as the next likely candidates for a digital terrestrial TV switch-off, due to the prominence of high speed broadband and cable TV services, with satellite as a back-up option. The Dutch telco KPN has been obligated to keep running a terrestrial service until 2030, but subscriber numbers for its Digitenne service continue to fall as it encourages its users to take up its IPTV option, which offers more channels and the option to record programmes (which its terrestrial TV doesn't offer). Belgium's VRT has announced it's giving up its free-to-air terrestrial service on the 1st December, with commercial operator TV Vlaanderen stepping in to provide pay TV access to the channels via their terrestrial network. VRT says free-to-air viewers who don't want to pay will need to switch to VRT NU service and watch via fixed-line internet or 3/4G mobile.