Deployment of 4G mobile networks could take out TV broadcasts for 90,000 homes, rather than the two million which had been feared – but thousands of pounds is available for upgrades to affected homes.
That's according to at800, the organisation handed £180m to fix a problem which, it now admits, isn't nearly as bad as had been feared. At least, it's not nearly as bad for the primary TV sets for which at800 is responsible.
Secondary sets, in bedrooms and backrooms, often with rabbit-ear antennas or boosters, will have to take care of themselves. Once the 4G networks start operating (in the next few months) primary sets which lose signal are entitled to a free filter, a better aerial or even a satellite downlink to ensure they can get a decent picture.
It was feared there would be millions of such users, as the new 4G networks operate in a band which used to contain analogue TV signals. Most set-top boxes can distinguish these without difficulty, but the concern was that older boxes and boosters would amplify the interfering 4G transmissions, along with the desired Freeview signal.
Boosters aren't regulated, so no-one knows how many are in use or how good they are. Lab testing suggested that two million homes might lose Freeview reception when 4G was switched on, and given the UK's reliance on free-to-air TV that wasn't acceptable.
So the operators stumped up £180m between them, and set up Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited. DMSL promptly rebranded itself "at800" and started buying huge stocks of filters it expected to need once the interference kicked in.
But testing in Brighton, London and around Dudley proved that Freeview decoders are surprisingly resilient, and boosters less common than anticipated, prompting at800 to revise their estimate downwards to 90,000 homes affected.
That gives at800 two grand per household to ensure Freeview arrives without problem, which should prove sufficient. The cap, for any home, is ten grand, but that was never likely to happen; Freesat reaches just about everywhere and costs a good deal less than that.
Cash left over goes back to the operators, so there's some incentive to keep expenses down. That mountain of filters will still need to be posted out to someone, though, if at800 isn't going to look foolish for having bought so many. ®