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Government Launches Plan To Mitigate 4G Television Interference

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Government and operators back a body which plans to minimise the 4G stress on TV signals

A not-for-profit group funded by the government and backed by mobile operators is to begin work this week on avoiding a digital television blackout that could hit up to one in 10 British homes later this year due to interference from planned 4G mobile services.

Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL) said that this week it will begin buying millions of filters that will be distributed to homes expected to be hit by interference.

Interference

The group was formed in October and funded to the tune of £180m by the government, using funds collected from mobile operators, in order to bring the datae of the 4G spectrum auction forward. This week the group appointed as its chief executive Simon Beresford-Wylie, a former chief of Nokia Siemens Networks and smart meter company Elster Group.

The government funding is independent of the £3.5bn the government is expected to receive from the spectrum auctions.

Ofcom“DMSL plans to pre-empt the majority of potential interference issues caused by 4G at 800 MHz and existing TV services,” Beresford-Wylie stated. “We’re focused on being able to provide anyone who may be affected with the information and equipment they’ll need to ensure they continue to receive free-to-air TV.”

Freeview is not affected by the 4G services currently offered by EE, which reuse 1,800MHz radio spectrum originally allocated to 2G networks. However, the 4G services planned for launch this summer will use the 800MHz spectrum band, which is adjacent to the 700MHz band used by Freeview, and this is expected to cause problems for up to 2.3 million households.

Ofcom expects that around 40,000 of these will be unable to use filters, and will instead be offered an alternative such as Freesat. The regulator has admitted that perhaps 1,000 households will be unable to access Freeview, satellite or cable and will thus be left without television services.

Beresford-Wylie said DMSL needs to be “fully operational” by March in order to mitigate interference issues.

Funding plan

The group expects to be able to pinpoint affected households using a “sophisticated model” developed with mobile operators. Ofcom has identified homes served by London’s Crystal Palace transmitter and Lancashire’s Winter Hill transmitter as among those set to experience the most interference.

Aside from the filters, DMSL’s funding will be used to pay for a nationwide advertising campaign to inform Freeview users of potential problems. For households which cannot use filters, up to £10,000 has been set aside for alternative services, while about £20m has been allocated for additional support for the elderly or disabled persons.

Another £12m will be used to pay for the professional installation of filters if needed.

Ofcom confirmed last month that the 4G spectrum auction had finally begun, after repeated delays and legal bickering over how the sale of spectrum would be carried out. Seven bidders are currently fighting for airwave space, tabling their offers online over secure connections, with the process expected to take several weeks until the winners are known, and no updates on bidding activity to be provided until then.

As announced in December, the list of bidders includes the top four mobile players – Vodafone, Telefonica O2, Everything Everywhere (or EE, as it is now known) and Hutchison 3G UK, which owns the 3 brand. Niche Spectrum Ventures, a subsidiary of BT, is also in the running, along with backhaul specialist MLL Telecom and HKT (UK) Company, owner of wireless specialist UK Broadband.

This week independent speed tests found that EE’s 4G speeds and coverage are largely living up to the operator’s promises in Cardiff, Liverpool and Sheffield.

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