Freeview TV under threat as mobile phone companies eat up more of the airwaves

Media Editor

Freeview is facing “death by stealth” because of the relentless growth of mobile phone companies - according to the chair of Digital UK, the body which oversees the popular television platform.

 

Caroline Thomson, who until recently was the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, will argue in a major speech today that Freeview - which is in 19 million British homes - faces being sacrificed to the “slice by slice” demand of mobile operators for precious broadcast spectrum.

Ms Thomson believes the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) model on which Freeview operates could become so limited that it would be “unviable”, and that Freeview users would have to switch to other services controlled by companies such as BT and BSkyB.

She said she feared “an insidious slicing away of spectrum available to DTT because mobile is the sexy thing and the thing which is engaging policy makers and makes Government money from selling spectrum”.

Her comments come ahead of a meeting of the World Radio Conference next year at which an earlier decision is expected to be ratified, ensuring that the 700 Megahertz (MHz) spectrum band is reallocated from television to mobile.

Ms Thomson said this would mean that in 2018, Freeview viewers would be required to make fresh adjustments to their sets. “The broadcasters will have to move… spectrum and a fair number will have to change their aerials and may need to retune their boxes. It will be quite a big communications job to tell people what to do.”

Caroline Thomson, chair of Digital UK (BBC) Caroline Thomson, chair of Digital UK (BBC)
It is only two years since Digital UK completed the successful Digital Switchover process in which the analogue signal was turned off and millions of households were persuaded to switch to Freeview. She said policy makers could be “sleepwalking” into a new “switchover by stealth – or even a switch-off by stealth” by continually reducing the spectrum for DTT.

“The signs are that the mobile operators are then going to ask for the 600 MHz band,” she said. “That’s what I mean about it being slice by slice. Every bit causes more problems to television signal by aerial and confines more the space that can be occupied by broadcasting.”

In such a scenario, Freeview would be reduced to a narrow output of public service channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. “It becomes very much a second class service and stops being a viable alternative, you start saying to people the only way of getting a full television service is via gatekeepers such as BT and Sky.”

Ms Thomson said she recognised that it was extremely important to the UK economy that mobile communications were enabled to thrive. “We all want mobile to be successful but we think there’s a real risk that they go helter skelter down the mobile route of clearing spectrum unnecessarily.”

“By the slice by slice erosion you kill DTT. I’m not accusing policy makers of setting off to kill DTT; they all say they are backing it, but the pressures to do things for mobile are such that they do it almost by accident.”

Spectrum is an international issue, which is why it is overseen by the WRC. A change in spectrum use in the south of England, for example, could have implications for reception in France. The decision to reallocate the 700 MHz band began after US mobile operators lobbied for clearance of the band for mobile use in Africa.

Ms Thomson said a change of spectrum in North Africa affected southern Italy and Spain and had led to Europe clearing the band for mobile. But she said German broadcasters shared her reservations.

She will deliver her warning at this week’s conference of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer at the Geological Society in London.

Colin Browne, the VLV chairman, backed Ms Thomson’s concerns. “The risk is that Freeview dies a death by a thousand cuts,” he said.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Administration Assistant / Office Assistant

£18 - 20k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An Administration Assistant / Office Assistan...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Chosen to lead the women's wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, the wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding the 90-year old
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model of a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution