Millions Lose Ceefax In Digital Switchover

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Real-time information service no longer available on TVs in London

Millions of people in the UK can no longer access Ceefax after analogue television signals across London and parts of the south east of England were shut down last night in the latest phase of the digital switchover.

The real-time news and information service, which has been operational since 1974, is still accessible in areas of Kent, Sussex, north east England and Northern Ireland, although all transmissions will cease when the switchover is completed in October.

Accidental discovery

Ceefax was invented by accident when BBC engineers were investigating ways to provide subtitles for the deaf. They discovered that normal television pictures of 625 lines had a number of spare lines which could be used to transmit words or numbers.

This spare space was used to create a news service which originally comprised just 24 pages, written by a single journalist who worked normal office hours, meaning there were no updates in the evenings or at weekends.

This later expanded to a service which included sports news and results, weather information, TV listings and lottery results. The Internet and digital television has meant that the importance of Ceefax has decreased and a full service has not been carried on many digital television services since 2002.

Nevertheless it has retained a loyal following who will have to find alternatives, while others have taken to Twitter to mourn its passing and discuss their memories.

“Although we won’t be saying our proper goodbyes to Ceefax until later in the year when switchover is complete across the country, I wanted to send a note of reassurance and a reminder: our digital text service, available via the red button to people who use cable, satellite or Freeview, provides national, local and international news, plus sport, weather and much else besides,” said Steve Hermann, editor of the BBC News website.

Digital Switchover

London was one of the last areas in the UK to have its analogue signal switched off, with the process beginning earlier this month and the switchover has already been completed in Scotland, Wales and parts of England.

Those who wish to continue watching television must either purchase a set-top box or television with a built in Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) tuner or subscribe to a cable or satellite service such as Virgin Media or Sky.

DTT uses the 700MHz spectrum in the UK and Ofcom has launched a consultation to discuss the feasibility of reusing the spectrum for mobile broadband services. However the regulatory authority has said that any such reassignment would be unlikely given the importance of television as a public service and the fact that it is subject to international cooperation agreements. Any reassignment would also necessitate another costly and potentially confusing switchover.

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