back to article Ofcom can prise my telly spectrum from my COLD, DEAD... er, aerial

Ah, nostalgia! How often people round these parts wax lyrical about the days of the ZX Spectrum. And how quickly, if some get their way, we may be waxing lyrical about the spectrum that used to provide us with terrestrial TV. Yes, a bare few months after I suggested Reg readers might like to make their thoughts known to Ofcom …

  1. Badvok

    "Broadcast is efficient"

    Yep, broadcast is efficient given one important caveat: that there is a large number of people who want to receive the same thing at the same time.

    Also, DSat is a lot more efficient and provides greater coverage than DTT for a similar cost if new equipment is going to be required anyway.

    So why not let DTT die, those few die hards who want to continue to be fed broadcast TV at scheduled times can use DSat and the rest of us can get better mobile connectivity.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

      Well, the graph presented in the article suggests that there *is* rather a large number of people who want to receive the same thing at the same time - around 94% of the population of Europe who have a TV in the house.

      So why not let DTT die; do away with a massively popular public good for the benefit of that tiny minority who can't wait for the next episode of the latest fad can clog the available bandwidth with multiple copies of the same data.

      D-sat is an option - provided that the same data rate is provided to the receiver and that the viewer has both the ability and the permission to place a dish on his property. Which is by no means always the case.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        "Recieve at the same time" is slightly skewed by the fact that at the moment much of it can *only* be recieved at that time. Despite the number of channels, and the number of hours TVs spend "off" there are a phenomenal number of them in the UK.

        How much of the currently viewed content could be happily transmitted (transport agnostic statement) to PVRs overnight, for viewing as convenient the next day (say when the decrypt key for that content was broadcast/published - low bandwidth at "time of delivery").

        Genuine question - haven't watched any broadcast TV in a long while - how much of it isn't prerecorded (even if recorded "as live").

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

          ""Recieve at the same time" is slightly skewed by the fact that at the moment much of it can *only* be recieved at that time. "

          Scuse me?

          How much content on Freeview is broadcast only once during any given day or week? Even where there's not [yet] an explicit +1 channel, such as BBC, lots of stuff is rebroadcast on the same or another channel, later the same day or the same week.

          Of the tiny proportion of stuff that isn't repeated soon after broadcast, how much of it can't be recorded (when it is broadcast) on a PVR? I'm guessing the answer is 'none'.

          "How much of the currently viewed content could be happily transmitted (transport agnostic statement) to PVRs overnight, for viewing as convenient"

          TopUpTV tried something very like that, and failed (more than once). It's written about in the usual places.

          "how much [broadcast tv] isn't prerecorded (even if recorded "as live")"

          Well there's not much live sport on terrestrial TV these days so let's count that out.

          The 'news' channels are 50% pre-recorded and the other 50% is mostly the same from one hour to the next so might as well be considered as not live, statistIcally insignificant, or both.

          So what does that leave, ignoring 'live' shopping channels...

          BBC {Spring|Autumn|Winter}Watch?

          Anything else?

          Does live breakfast/morning TV still exist? Would anybody notice if it didn't?

      2. Paul Shirley

        Re: @Neil Barnes

        That graph is deceptive. In large parts of the EU almost no one uses over the air broadcasts. The UK is pretty unusual in it's high use of aerials. Ofcom are rigging the numbers by using EU stats.

    2. dajames Silver badge

      Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

      Yep, broadcast is efficient given one important caveat: that there is a large number of people who want to receive the same thing at the same time.

      Not necessarily "at the same time". I, at least, record most of my TV and watch it later when it suits me. The broadcasters may not like the fact that that enables me to skip the advertising (but it's surprising how much of an advert one takes in at x3 speed).

      I wonder how many of the DTV channels are actually watched by a "large number" of people? Does anyone watch the "shopping and fucking" (or, indeed, "mass debating") channels? My possibly misplaced faith in human nature leads me to suspect that at least half the spectrum could easily be reclaimed without inconveniencing anyone who cares.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        If digital broadcast telly is taking up valuable bandwidth, surely the answer is to raise the fees charged. This will drive out those channels that are watched by only a handful and they can move to online only (as seems to be happening to BBC3).

      2. Paul Shirley

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        The massive problem with going to IP broadcasting is things like live sport that sometimes millions of viewers want to watch live and in real HD. Not timeshifted, not delayed by buffering and not breaking up at crucial moments because bandwidth goes MIA and not the piss poor resolution we normally see.

        IP has miserably failed to deliver that quality of service to audiences that large so far and there's little sign of it improving in any short timescale.

        I'll agree most of the DTT bandwidth is wasted on complete crap and many of those channels aren't any better than internet channels but if this sell off to profiteers goes ahead we'll lose them all, the good with the bad.

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

          The massive problem with going to IP broadcasting

          There is already a solution to this problem: Multicast.

          It's been around years. Some networking guru showed me UK TV being delivered live via multicast IP a while ago.

          The problem is that the ISPs have to enable their networks to support Multicast. Fewer ISPs have multicast than have IPv6 enabled.

        2. jabuzz

          Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

          The live sport consuming massive amounts of bandwidth is entirely fixable with multicast and BT Openreach offer this facility across large portions of their network in a product known as Multicast for Generic Ethernet Access. It requires that your router supports multicast and lots don't, however broadcast TV over IP has been fixed through the use of IP multicast for some time now.

      3. MJI Silver badge

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        We record and watch mainly but Sunday BBC2 20:00 is sancrosant live TV.

        My daughter get annoyed at me skipping theme tunes as whe likes to make stupid noises to them, whereas I prefer adverts at speed rather than skipped as I may miss a good one.

        Yes If I see a game advert I watch, the Destiny adverts are almost better than the game!

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient" @dajames

        I completely agree except for the x3 bit. Faster speeds are available, at least they are on Mythtv.

      5. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        My possibly misplaced faith in human nature

        H.L. Menken had something to say about estimating this sort of thing

      6. Vic

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        Does anyone watch the "shopping and fucking" ... channels?

        Yes. People do.

        QVC, for example, is one of the biggets moneyspinners in digital TV. That's why they put so much effort into making it perfect[1], even if the decoder isn't working correctly...

        Vic.

        [1] For example, the A/V sync is largely maintained by transmission time. So even if your PTS sync is badly broken - as it was originally in all the early Sky boxes, because it was broken in the ST reference tree - the lip sync is still pretty much there.

    3. Badvok

      Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

      Wow, what an amazing negative response from readers of an IT focused site.

      A few additional points that might be worth mentioning:

      It is almost impossible to buy large screen monitors for living room use, so many people have a TV even if they don't use it for broadcast TV much. What we really need is actual viewing figures, hmm, I wonder if there is someone who does that?

      The number of people actually watching broadcast TV live is only ever going to decline, it is old, done, on its way out whether you like it or not. Live events could be streamed more efficiently over CDNs and/or DSat.

      Just as regulations were changed to allow a TV antenna to avoid planning regulations the same can be done for satellite dishes (and already has to a certain extent). DSat can also be used to provide high-bandwidth digital delivery of content to places where broadband connections are more difficult or constrained.

      DTT and its extensive, expensive network of transmitters needs to fade away to leave room for more modern content delivery methods.

      I recently had to consider whether to replace my broken PVR, it was a tough choice and the only thing that swung it was SWMBO and the quality of ITV Player. ITV programs are the only things we record these days because they are the only ones that are not available on a high-quality stream.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        Those lines overlaid on the graph are based on average amount of viewing per day. Even if those programmes are timeshifted, the data still has to be shifted to people to enable them to watch it.

        And the projections of how much mobile data will grow don't seem to show it being able to manage that for quite some time, even on the most optimistic projections.

        So, surely that does make DTT pretty efficient; it's also in place now, which makes it a better bet than telling people "Oh, never mind, replace your kit with a satellite box" - and I'm sure it won't be too long before someone else says "Hey! Why don't we interleave wireless data amongst the satellite downlink frequencies" as well.

        There's an existing, efficient infrastructure that can deliver a massive amount of programme data to people, using the equipment they already have in their homes. In some cases, that equipment is only a few years old.

        Aside from anything else, telling people "hey, we're going to switch that off really soon now" isn't really going to help mass take-up of other new technologies in future.

        And doing it so that we end up paying mobile networks monthly fees, and they pay Qualcomm huge royalties, just so that we can continue to receive what we currently pluck of of the ether for nothing?

        I'd prefer to see the mobile networks actually use the space they have first, then perhaps they can have some of the unused chunks the military don't use. There isn't, as far as I can see, any pressing technical need for them to mess up the space used by DTT. There may be a commercial imperative (for them), but that's a different matter.

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient" Badvoc

        Where are these high quality streams you mention?

        I have used BBC I player recently and it is not as HD as broadcast. Also I am sure there is temporal compression as well.

        Not a patch on broadcast

        1. Vic

          Re: "Broadcast is efficient" Badvoc

          Also I am sure there is temporal compression as well.

          There's temporal compression on almost all forms of digital TV. Those that don't use it (e.g. MJPEG) are not useful for broadcast, as they do not achieve the compression ratios necessary to get a reasonable image quality with the data rates available.

          Vic.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: "Broadcast is efficient" Badvoc

            I was refering to the fact that I am sure most streams are not 50i or 25p

            1. Vic

              Re: "Broadcast is efficient" Badvoc

              I was refering to the fact that I am sure most streams are not 50i or 25p

              ...In which case, I have absolutely no idea why you introduced temporal compression to the discussion, since that is entirely orthogonal to the framerate and interlacing of the video.

              Vic.

      3. John Sager

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        ITV Player quality has been truly dire on the few times we've had to use it. However even the 'high quality' stream of BBC iPlayer is nothing like as good as even SD broadcast. Ofcom are playing their usual game of giving low priority to service user requirements over service provider requirements.

        IP delivery of broadcast services will only work with at least tens-of-megabits broadband delivery to the population coverage requirements the broadcasters must meet. Commercial realities mean that is never going to happen by copper, fibre or RF. Also, satellite is a single point of failure. With a big enough solar flare, all the sats, including the spares, will fail, and the replacement cycle will be long, with sat broadcasting probably not near the top of the build & launch priority list.

        1. jabuzz

          Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

          Assuming your broadband connection is up to it, the BBC iPlayer HD stream is 720p as can easily be ascertained by using get_iplayer to download a stream to disk and examining it to your hearts content. So in reply the BBC iPlayer HD stream is better than an SD broadcast.

      4. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: "Broadcast is efficient"

        >DTT and its extensive, expensive network of transmitters needs to fade away to leave room for more modern content delivery methods.

        And the much larger network of micro cells needed to deliver high bandwidth 4G services (ie. HD TV) to the same population isn't going to be expensive... If anything it will be much more expensive - you only need to look at the costs for BDUK and compare them to the costs of running the UK's TV transmitter network...

  2. Sarah Balfour

    Doesn't affect me…g

    I've not had a telly since the mid-90s - feck-all on t'worth licence fee. Personally I'd scrap it, the Beeb's becoming more and more of an irrelevance these days.

    By the way, did you know that it wants to use summat like £2.5 BEEELLION (fuck, it's contagious) to build a DisneyWorld-Paris-rivalling theme park in East London, in conjunction with Universal…? All,the more reason to scrap it, if you ask me…

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Doesn't affect me…g

      So, no children then?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't affect me…g

      So who the fuck cares about your opinion then?

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Doesn't affect me…g

      "I've not had a telly since the mid-90s - feck-all on t'worth licence fee"

      Obligatory XKCD

  3. MJI Silver badge

    Just filled it in

    I put in a date when I will be 100

    Also mentioned that for broadband internet there is such thing as fibre broadband

  4. Down not across Silver badge

    Streaming is not equivalent to broadcast

    Multicast is about the closest thing to broadcast. Still not the same however.

    However as we all know there are lots of not-spots so anyone living in those areas would lose out.

    Admittedly these bands could potentially increase coverage unless operators are greedy and instead try to reduce number of cells. Now let me think which way the greedy operators are likely to go...

    Also free-to-air is free-to-air (I am intentionally ignoring tv license here) and anyone can receive it if they have equipment without needing a contract to pay monthly or constant top ups. Also in case of a disaster free-to-air broadcast has best chance of reaching the most people unlike cell network that *will have* capacity limits unlike free-to-air broadcast where number of receivers makes no difference.

    Yes I do realise this wasn't about switching off all DTT in favour of mobile data, but it is a slippery slope.

    And indeed I find the offerings mostly poor and wouldn't miss them, but there are other people who might feel differently and it is not all about what I need/use. Mobile data will get better and more efficient without needing this slice of spectrum. In other words my gain would quite likely to be marginal where as effect on general free-to-air service could be more than just marginal.

    Thanks for the link Nigel, I have filled the form.

  5. xpz393

    For the greater good...

    Despite being fortunate enough to have 150Mb cable broadband, I'm yet to experience a streaming/on demand service which delivers an "HD" picture that's even nearly as good as Broadcast HD, let alone Blu-ray HD, hence the reason I continue to shun them in favour of viewing via my TiVo or using Blu-ray discs.

    Digital satellite may well be a more bandwidth-efficient solution, but it has access barriers for some members of society which just aren’t there with terrestrial digital broadcast TV (Freeview), including:

    1. Less integrated – most existing/new TVs have Freeview built-in, whereas built-in Freesat is less common

    2. More expensive – You’ll likely need a receiver, plus dish and installation, whereas most properties already have a working Freeview aerial

    3. More obtrusive – Big ugly grey dish on the wall instead of a svelte aerial hidden away on the chimney stack or even in the loft

    4. Less resilient – Heavy rain or snow? No satellite signal received. Terrestrial DTV usually plods on fine

    5. Less reliable – LNB failure, dish slightly out of line etc

    In an ideal solution, every home in the UK would have access to cable for their TV and broadband, with only a small nominal fee (no more than the cost of an aerial) to have the house initially hooked up, and an option for subscription-free TV viewing thereafter. As that is highly unlikely to ever happen, Terrestrial DTV (Freeview) is by far the best ‘catch all’ solution for everyone in society to have an access route to TV viewing that’s reliable and affordable.

    The day that Terrestrial DTV/Freeview is switched off will be a very sad day indeed.

  6. Roger Mew

    16:9

    16:9

    What you may or not know is that the current 16:9 is going to be replaced by an even wider standard. This will effectively kill completely all those still using 4:3, 16:9 will be watchable but the object is to get people to keep getting newer kit.

    However, they need to start putting more watchable programs on for a wider audience instead of period dramas with more mistakes than enough.

    OK some will say they are good, however BR was not running steam locos of a 1951 design in 1914. Crass mistakes like that, Routemaster buses in the war, a line up of Mk1 Landrovers at the end of Katy. These things ruin films for me as they no longer have authenticity. However things like Fresh fields etc are just funny for all age groups.

    1. xpz393

      Re: 16:9

      A slight deviation, but an amusing one :)

      My favourite one is the blatantly covered-up intruder alarm sensor in several of the Downton Abbey rooms. lol.

    2. Vic

      Re: 16:9

      What you may or not know is that the current 16:9 is going to be replaced by an even wider standard

      Well, I didn't know that, and I've been in the broadcast TV industry for nearly 19 years now.

      Vic.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: 16:9

        Quite, Vic. I don't think I saw a single display in any wider ratio at IBC; I'm pretty certain that if there was a move to anything else in broadcast, it would have been all over the place, or perhaps mentioned in the press materials from the likes of DVB. They're busy roadmapping 4K, after all, with plenty of talk about wider gamut, higher refresh rates, codecs, and so on. I can't believe a change in aspect ratio just slipped everyone's mind.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about this for an idea... the DTT spectrum is potentially worth a lot of money, the 3G auctions showed us this, and a quick Google leads me to believe that £20B should be enough to lay an FTTH network that covers the vast majority of houses and businesses. So here's the plan, lay the network and start reaping the benefits, this should be complete by about 2030. At that point start switching off DTT and selling (or better leasing) the spectrum. The sale of the spectrum should cover a good chunk of the cost of the fibre network and the increase productivity of everyone having decent internet access should cover any remaining cost. Of course this plan is too simple for our Government to grasp and doesn't involve enough restructuring.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Of course this plan is too simple for our Government to grasp"

      They grasp the concept just fine. But it's too long term for anyone to initiate or approve such that they get credit when it's built out. They can't even plan for their party to claim credit that far in the future, never mind their own personal glory.

      Long gone are the days when a real (although admittedly still quite rare) "statesman" would think of the good of the country first and party second. Even more so with the ransacking of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords. They could safely think long term without fear of loosing their seats, the duffers being balanced by some sharp minds.

  8. DougS Silver badge

    It hasn't been a problem in the US

    Why do people think it would be a problem in Europe? Are there places where the whole spectrum is filled so the higher numbered channels can't be reclaimed and the remaining channels reorganized as necessary to fit?

    If you have so many channels that they won't fit if the high numbered ones are lost I could see the outcry, but even then if it is done by a reverse auction process where stations are paid for giving up their broadcast licenses the less viewed ones would sell out and could use the proceeds to move to a different delivery model.

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Broadcast is efficient

    Dsat is extremely efficient. It covers the entire country and there's significantly more bandwidth available than can be pumped through the _ENTIRE_ UHF TV bands.

    As for TV antennas being "svelte" - every time I catch the train into London I roll past thousands on top of 3 story buildings that are on guyed 5-10-metre poles simply to catch a sniff from Crystal Palace (this is less than 4 miles from Waterloo station).

    There's nothing whatsoever svelte about those kinds of eyesores (as a former RF engineer I cringe when I see 'em), but they've just disappeared into the the background as far as most people are concerned.

    As a 60cm dish is more than enough in the UK (and there are planning exceptions for anything smaller than 1.2m as long as it's not extremely obtrusive, even in AONB), they can normally be positioned to be quite discreet.

    The usual run of objections to them end up boiling down to "used by poor/undesirable/foreign people"

    The village I work in (in the heart of stockbroker country) is in a valley and has _no_ DTT signal at all. Every house has 1 or more satellite dishes on it, but you'd be hard pressed to see them and there are no gripes about the things. It's funny how people adapt when the choices are "it's this, or nothing at all"

    Running a national network of transmitters and translators is extremely expensive and capital-intensive. It's far easier to put an uplink dish at the TV stations and as a result, this _is_ the way things are going.

    even 15 years ago the situation was different, but LNAs are now both very cheap and very sensitive, meaning that a small dish is more than adequate - and you can even paint or get them in transparent if you want - http://www.satellitesuperstore.com/fixed-dishes.htm#clear60

    For really sensitive sites there are flat panel antennas and these are even harder to notice unless you're looking for them - http://www.satellitesuperstore.com/sky.htm#selfsat

    (There are other stores, this was the first one that came up in google)

    1. James R Grinter

      Re: Broadcast is efficient

      Some of us live in flats and apartment blocks these days. What's the tech like for massively shared dishes, if each apartment wants two or three receivers?

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Broadcast is efficient

        There are various mechanisms to cope with that. The most prevalent is probably to have a quad lnb in which one of the four parts is set to each of the possible options (High/Low, Vertical/Horizontal). That connects to a distribution system, and each apartment has however many connections it requires (usually, two per recorder, one for a standard receiver). The receivers act as normal, and the think they're talking to a standard LNB, sending the appropriate signals for the options required. The distribution system intercepts those, and connects that cable to the appropriate signal.

        An alternative is called Unicable, which is a single cable distribution system, which allows all the signals to go across a single cable, to multiple recievers. It requires a Unicable LNB and support in the receivers too. And the one time I tried playing with a bit of kit that was supposed to support it, I had no end of trouble. To be fair, that was in 2008, in the very early days of Unicable. But it doesn't seem to have taken off, from what I can see

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Broadcast is efficient

        "What's the tech like for massively shared dishes, if each apartment wants two or three receivers?"

        Trivial. Housing distribution systems have been around for a long time and can even cope with multiple satellite clusters. http://www.ableis.co.uk/services/tv-satellite-distribution/technology-explained.html

        It generally works out to less than the cost of an individual sat dish for each dwelling, but landlords resist it because they have to spend money upfront.

  10. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    They want to do something like this in the US too (well, maybe not reduce/eliminate FTA television but further reduce available channels, making it a tight fit). I personally have absolutely ZERO interest in this -- the cell cos here are SO greedy, while LTE and more spectrum has decreased their cost per GB significantly, they actually have increased per-GB charges.... so screw 'em, I'm not interested in making it easier for the cell cos to deliver data at $10-15/GB.

    "whereas I prefer adverts at speed rather than skipped as I may miss a good one."

    You have those in UK ("good" ads?) Here, the advertisers seem to just assume people are "forced" to watch the ads, and seem to make them as obnoxious as possible.

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Coverage

    Maybe the mobile phone companies should be told to bog off until they start to efficiently use what spectrum they have and provide coverage at least equivalent to DTT coverage. From what I understand, this ought to be possible with what they already have. They are upgrading the dense population areas, so make them re-use the old kit to improve (or create) coverage elsewhere.

  12. Christian Berger Silver badge

    It's not like you'd even have more spectrum to pump through more data

    You can also make smaller cells or more advanced base stations... however that costs more money to the mobile operators.

    Of course the sensible thing to do would be to make data networks a tax financed public service. Communities would then lay fibres whenever they dig up the ground anyhow, and over years we'd have a dedicated pair of fibres into every household, with public Wifi available to everyone. You could put a hotspot into every router or junction box.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Commercial reality suggests...

      The TV spectrum they have their eyes on extends down to the 700MHz area too; and while these lower frequencies will make it easier to cover large areas than chunks in the 2GHz+ spectrum, there's a good reason why, for example, Three started to build out their network at the higher frequencies - speed.

      At 700MHz, you can cover more of the country (though experience suggests there will still be not-spots), but the speeds won't be so great. As you say, what's the point?

      (Other than a "thin end of the wedge", a foot in the door to grab as much space as they can, in the hopes it can be monetised later, once DTT has been kicked to the kerb)

  14. jonfr

    I don't see the need for this

    I don't see the need for this. While 2G (GSM) is currently being used the usage of that old standard is dropping, since many users have moved over to 3G and LTE connections already. What is the problem is coverage, that has nothing to do with spectrum.

    Current mobile bands are today, 800/900/1800/2100/2600Mhz. It is my view that such coverage is enough and steps should be taken in order to start phasing out 2G slowly. That would free up 900/1800Mhz in Europe for 3G and LTE. It might happen naturally as thing advance, at the moment, it is not doing so.

    As for usage in 700Mhz. I think that UK is the only country in EU that is planning such usage at the moment. Rest of EU is going continue to use this spectrum for DVB-T/T2 broadcast signals.

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