February 11, 2013 12:00 am

Drive to avert TV blackout begins

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The government is starting work this week on a nationwide campaign to prevent up to one in 10 homes losing its television signal because of interference from next generation mobile services.

More than 2m households across Britain could be affected by disruption from 4G services using similar spectrum, according to Ofcom, the communications watchdog. Many of these will need to be fitted with specially made filters to dampen the interference and, in the case of a small number, transferred to alternatives such as satellite or cable.

Simon Beresford-Wylie, a telecoms industry veteran, will this week be named chief executive of Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, the group charged with ensuring Britain’s terrestrial TV will not be knocked out by 4G mobile services.

“The 4G networks will likely be running from this summer,” Mr Beresford-Wylie said. “We need to be fully operational by March to be in place to mitigate any interference issues.”

The government has raised £180m from the mobile groups who will use 4G spectrum (an amount separate from the £3.5bn the Treasury is expected to raise from auctioning the spectrum) to pay for the filters as well as a nationwide advertising campaign to alert home owners to potential problems.

Engineers will be employed to make home visits to fit the devices where necessary, although the filters are designed to be fitted by home owners in most cases.

Mr Beresford-Wylie said DMSL would work closely with broadcasters and mobile network operators to build a “sophisticated model” to predict where interference might occur, and to provide filters accordingly.

Before the 4G launch, DMSL will conduct pilots to ensure that solutions work and to help find problem areas.

“We expect to be able to identify affected households,” Mr Beresford-Wylie said. “We will need to procure millions [of filters] in the first instance.”

Interference would be a product of the congestion of spectrum, used to broadcast television as well as mobile signals after the switch-over of TV services to digital, which operate in close proximity in their bandwidths. The interference can knock out the television signal entirely.

It is not known exactly how many homes would be affected or where, although a study by Ofcom indicated that about 2.3m households could be affected. Ofcom has estimated that 38,500 of those properties could not be fitted with a filter, and up to £10,000 per household has been allocated to pay for alternative television services.

About £20m has been set aside for additional support for the quarter of households with someone aged 75 or over or registered disabled, and up to £12m to be used to support the professional installation of filters .

There can be complications with filters, which can be incorrectly installed and need to be fitted next to signal amplifiers – which are sometimes found in awkward places to reach, such as the roof.

The group will begin preparing for the end of the auction of 4G spectrum expected this month. The not-for-profit organisation is backed by EE, Telefónica O2, Three and Vodafone, although DMSL’s ultimate ownership will be based on the successful bidders in the auction.

Andrew Pinder, chairman of DMSL, said: “Ensuring Britain’s terrestrial TV continues uninterrupted while Britain benefits from 4G is a huge responsibility.”

Mr Beresford-Wylie was previously chief executive of Elster Group, the smart meter company, and also Nokia Siemens Networks from 2007 to 2009.

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