Broadcast regulator Ofcom is refusing to reserve newly available bandwidth to provide UK homes with free High-definition TV.
The digital switchover will make more broadcast spectrum available, yet despite pressure from HD For All – a consortium made up of UK broadcasters as well as Sony, Samsung and the Dixons retail chain – the regulator is determined to sell the newly freed bandwidth to the highest bidder.
The regulator says its proposals, announced last month for more efficient use of the digital terrestrial TV spectrum, should still allow broadcasters to deliver extra services, including HDTV, within the current spectrum limits.
Following the completion of the digital TV switchover, Ofcom says two kinds of spectrum will be freed up: 112 MHz that will become available as a result of digital switchover (channels numbered 31-35, 37, 39-40 and 63-68), with a further 8 MHz (channel 36) cleared of its existing use by airport radar in March 2009. Some more space will be made available by the removal of the need to avoid interference between transmitters.
It says it will 'will package the cleared spectrum in a way that makes it suitable for more digital terrestrial television, but it will not be reserved for this use'. Other potential uses for the bandwidth up for grabs include:
- Cognitive radio, which will enable the setting up of mesh networks for data use, such as wi-fi systems.
- High-speed mobile broadband and mobile TV
- Local TV services
In fact only one part of the spectrum will be reserved - that required for wireless microphones and the like for large-scale events such as the 2012 Olympics: what's known as the programme-making and special events sector.
Ofcom says it 'will award most of the available interleaved spectrum by ‘beauty contest’ to a band manager who will be required to manage spectrum for PMSE users. This process will be designed to ensure that the licensee’s interests are aligned with those of PMSE users.
'The licensee will earn revenue by charging for access to the spectrum but will be required to meet reasonable demand from PMSE users on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. These measures will ensure that PMSE users can continue to access spectrum while moving towards a more market-based approach over time.'
Yes, your guess is as good as ours!
Space for more DTT TV services should, the regulator feels, be created by broadcasters taking a technology-led approach to the spectrum they already have - that is, if they can't afford to outbid others staking a claim to the 'digital dividend' spectrum. Techniques to be used, it says, include:
- Mode change, brought about by the digital switchover, which should increase capacity by 20% through better technological standards
- Efficiency improvements to make the most of the existing spectrum
- A coding change from the current MPEG2 to MPEG4
- DVB-T2, the new European DTT standard, which will increase capacity by a further 30%
- Multiplex reorganisation, reallocating the stations currently on Mux B, mainly used by the BBC, to spare capacity on the other mutliplexes. As Mux B is designated for public service broadcasting, this will allow Ofcom to invite the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and S4C to set out how they want to use the new spectrum available to them.
Ofcom says the benefits of this are that users only wanting the existing services will be able to stick with their current set-top boxes, with only those wanting the new services having to buy a new MPEG4/DVB-T2-compatible box