back to article Broadband's frequency hunters denied Freeview patch – for now

Freeview is safe. For now. Mobile operators with broadband services were denied the 470-694MHz frequency used by the terrestrial TV service. The decision was taken at a World Radio Conference (WRC) in Geneva, Switzerland with a review of the whole UHF band planned 2023. Essentially, the future of Freeview is now assured, …

  1. John Sager


    Better to move the HD channels to HEVC and/or VP9 in a few years, and migrate SD to H.264 with an eventual move to HEVC. If that became a statement of intent, then it would speed the introduction of HEVC onto HD sets as well as it now appearing in 4K sets.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: HEVC

      The problem with moving to HEVC is that you'd be obsoleting a hell of a lot more kit, some of it very new indeed. HEVC will be in a lot of sets, and where they are capable of decoding online content using HEVC, then they will also have to be able to decode broadcast content that uses it.

      But given how long we seem to be keen to support legacy MPEG2 kit, I can't see any shift to HEVC happening soon, or if at all, for broadcast material (and, there is of course some mild patent lunacy that needs to be cleared up first).

      It's hard enough getting people to commit to even a shift to T2/H.264, which has a pretty substantial installed base (over 16m Freeview HD products sold, around 4.5m homes with HD via DTT on their main set)

      1. Bob H

        Re: HEVC


        I'm actually surprised that more of the 'niche' channels haven't cottoned on to the idea that they could save money by switching to H.264 SD. They might reduce their viewership but that cost saving would be substantial. This happened in other countries when they introduced H.264 and the move of some content to the newer systems actually drove adoption of the devices by consumers because they wanted to continue to get the content even if it wasn't in HD.

        1. Nigel Whitfield.

          Re: HEVC

          I think that was partly the plan behind the COM7 and COM8 muxes, but there are only a handful of SD H.264 channels out there - AJ English and one or two others. COM8 is virutally empty at the moment.

          So, though those muxes were intended to drive takeup, I'm not convinced they actually have done. Perhaps if someone were to launch a free movies channel on one, or something like the old Men & Motors, that might work...

    2. Lamont Cranston

      Re: HEVC

      Better still, pick and standard and stick with it. I've bought 3 TVs and 1 PVR box in the last 5 years, I really don't fancy replacing them all. If Freeview shifts to DVB-T2, two of the TVs will stop working (they're small sets, so there's nothing to be gained from watching in HD over SD), and a move to HEVC would obsolete the lot in one fell swoop.

    3. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: HEVC

      Or... just give up on the whole radio broadcast thing, allocate the frequencies to Wifi and 5G tech, and then stream everything over a standardised IP service.

      Much simpler all around. Everything else is only putting off the inevitable.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: HEVC

        @Lee D

        Except that even with LTE, it's got a long way to go before it can be as efficient at distributing broadcast TV, much of which is still consumed in a linear fashion. IP may well come one day, but right now, it's not the solution for the way in which most people (that is, in the population, not "most people I know") watch.

      2. nijam

        Re: HEVC

        > Or... just give up on the whole radio broadcast thing, allocate the frequencies to Wifi and 5G tech, and then stream everything over a standardised IP service.

        Or, just give up on the monumental stupidity of streaming.

      3. Mage Silver badge

        Re: HEVC

        " just give up on the whole radio broadcast thing, allocate the frequencies to Wifi and 5G tech, and then stream everything over a standardised IP service"

        Doesn't scale for mass usage.

        Even if every street light was femto cell capacity would be worse than Fibre. Even fibre needs video servers at each ISP node for mass market VOD. Most WiFi can only manage a couple of decent quality video channels.

        IP works best for unique traffic. For "broadcast" it's only economic for niche channels. Will BBC3 be a cost saving only if hardly anyone watches it?

        Also IP infrastructure is fragile compared to Broadcast. Mobile more so and worse coverage.

        1. Nigel Whitfield.

          Re: HEVC


          Completely agree. An interesting stat on the economics of broadcast: the BBC spends 12% of all its distribution costs on iPlayer, even though that platform is responsible for just 2% of the viewing.

          It's not a cheap way of getting stuff to people - and of course, not only does it increase the cost for broadcasters, but for viewers too as they have to subscribe to some sort of ISP to get the content delivered to them.

          In a piece I did earlier this year, I had a graph showing the efficiency of DTT vs projected increases in the capabilities of LTE; it's a long time before we'll be able to replace it.

          And, of course, with mobile broadband, the operators aren't actually really interested in delivering your TV that way. They'd far rather people are using it to look at cat photos, or web pages, or anything that stops and starts, rather than consistently streaming video, because the latter actually means they'll have to invest massively in networks, rather than executive salaries and dividends.

          If the DTT frequencies are lost, eventually, I suspect it will be the end of free TV, certainly in the UK, because the mobile networks aren't going to provide anything free when they can charge you, and the two most established platforms have pay elements anyway.

          Without a free DTT system, many channels may decide that getting some - any - income from Virgin and Sky is better than staying with Freesat

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: HEVC

          "For "broadcast" it's only economic for niche channels"

          Multicasting is always a possibility. It was designed for this stuff, but none of the ISPs seem to want to support it.

          1. Vic

            Re: HEVC

            Multicasting is always a possibility.

            Multicasting gets you a half-way house; you can do NVOD quite easily, but not VOD. For that, you need a hybrid unicast/multicast model, with some local (buffer) storage.

            none of the ISPs seem to want to support it.

            Yes. I've never worked out why that should be so; there's a little complexity for the ISP (supporting IGMP snooping, etc.), but most halfway-decent switches already support that anyway.


            1. Bob H

              Re: HEVC

              Actually BT and TalkTalk both use Multicast for the delivery of YouView channels. But it isn't without complexities and getting the networks to do it with stability is a right b*tch. It is easy to say that all switches support multicast but experience says they get a bit delicate even in lab conditions when you throw a lot of traffic their way, also the equipment at the exchanges needs careful profiling and too many joins sometimes can break things if you aren't careful.

              Then the channels want to charge the ISPs for the right to deliver channels instead of seeing the advantage of a distribution medium paid for by someone else. Then the channels also want encyption/DRM which I am sure many here would object to, even if the same channel were originally available free-to-air they still want DRM. Go figure.

              Summary: multicast does work, it is in production, but it is more complex at very large scale (hundreds of thousands to millions of users) and channels want to charge ISPs for it.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "QVC+1 HD and QVC Beauty HD" ??


    Given that spectrum is a public commodity, do we really believe it's in the public interest to have so many channels selling crap to people who are stuck at home and can't really afford it in the first place?

    Shopping channels: off

    Shopping channels in HD: off

    Porn channels: off (they're basically just advertising for premium rate chat lines)

    Every +1 channel: off

    It would save a load of effort having to delete all those channels from your TV each time you retune it. And maybe they could then keep some of the half-decent stuff like BBC3.

    1. Lamont Cranston

      Re: "QVC+1 HD and QVC Beauty HD" ??

      I'd support this, but suspect that the shopping and porn channels are what's keeping Freeview free.

      Not entirely sure how, though - surely Etsy and PornHub provide more than enough crap jewellery and undressed ladies?

    2. Havin_it

      Re: "QVC+1 HD and QVC Beauty HD" ??

      TL;DR Why oh why is tax-payers' money being spent on something a majority of them want, when it could and should be being spent on what I want? /toysootpram

  3. rhydian

    Five free HD channels" is a lot less impressive than "14 free...

    Try living within range of one of DTT's "filler" transmitters with only three multiplexes rather than the full 8. A pretty paltry selection of channels with only 6 in HD (BBC1/2/3, ITV1, C4).

    Many new builds aren't bothering to install an aerial at all, and simply going for sky/freesat from the get go.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Five free HD channels" is a lot less impressive than "14 free...

      Indeed; one of the benefits of a second switch to T2 everywhere would be that those people who have a reduced number of muxes would get a lot more channels than they do at the moment.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Five free HD channels" is a lot less impressive than "14 free...

      "Many new builds aren't bothering to install an aerial at all, and simply going for sky/freesat from the get go."

      Therein lies the answer and the reason that DTT is obsolete.

      There are _very_ few locations you can't sling a receiver dish - far fewer than TV dead spots - and despite the naysayers a small dish (even up a chimney) is less fugly than the plethora of large antennas on 6-8 metre poles one sees in many parts of the country (usually the same areas where people gripe about satellite dishes reducing house values).

  4. Andrew Jones 2

    I had no idea that there were 14 HD channels, I've only seen BBC1, BBC2, ITV, CH4, BBC3 - what channels am I missing that are broadcasting in HD?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      The kids channel that timeshares with BBC3, and the ones mentioned in the article that are on the COM7 and COM8 muxes - though those don't have full UK coverage. How many muxes do you receive?

  5. Gomez Adams

    The obvious solution to avert the total obsolescence of so many devices is to retain one MUX as DVB-T hosting the main channels (and radio) in SD.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Yes, at least for a while - a single PSB mux in MPEG2/DVB-T would still give viewers more than they had in the analogue days, so while some people would certainly grumble, they would still be better off than before DSO.

      If a switch to T2 happened for other muxes in 2020 (and, in fact, all the people I've spoken with put it sometime after that) then there will have been compatible kit on sale for a decade at that point. From the beginning of next year, all Freeview labelled kit over 32 inches has to be T2 capable, and from Jan 2017 that extends to everything.

      So, if a switchover to T2 were to be planned from 2025 or so, I think you could reasonably argue that almost all the kit in operation then would have had a long useful life - even eight year old kit, at that point, would have mandatory support.

  6. Mage Silver badge


    Inherently MOBILE can't be broadband. Unless every street light is a femto cell.

    Mobile should not have 700MHz and even 800MHz will prove in the end to be regulator greed, and damaging for future of Terrestrial Broadcast. None of 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800Hz, 2100MHz can deliver broadband. Fibre is cheaper and 200x the speed/real capacity and 1/1000th of the electricity of decent density cell deployment.

    Cells are just too big at 700MHz and 800MHz.

    1. Bob H

      Re: Mobile

      I agree, the mobile companies shouldn't get more bandwidth until they can prove that they can behave correctly with what they've got already. They should invest in more and better coverage, more small cells and more femto cells. Asking for more premium bandwidth is just executives waving male appendages to see who has the bigger offering.

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Mobile

      A T2 mux is around 40-50Mbps of data; I don't think mobile will get much in the same space, so it's not the turbo speeds they're after.

      The benefit of these frequencies for the mobile mob, of course, is their carrying distance - exactly why they are useful for terrestrial TV. Grab this spectrum and they can keep their licence conditions of covering X% of the population quite easily. Never mind that a lot of those people will be struggling for a decent speed, because of the low frequency - as Bob H says, it's a dick waving game, in terms of coverage.

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