How to fix Freeview problems caused by 4G
This article was written ahead of the 4G switch-on in spring 2013, but as the networks expand their 4G coverage the problems discussed here are still relevant.
In spring 2013 we saw the arrival of new 4G mobile services operating in the 800 MHz band.
4G allows mobile devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablet PCs to access the internet at superfast speeds and has brought innovations in business, entertainment, education and public services.
While these new services have benefited the UK by giving us faster broadband on the move, Ofcom had been warning since June 2011 that they may also cause some problems with the reception of Freeview.
Freeview vs 4G
This is because the spectrum for 4G services that was auctioned off by the Treasury in February 2013 occupies space previously used for TV, and that sits next to today's digital terrestrial television services.
TV reception equipment has been built to receive signals at this frequency so viewers who watch Freeview but live close to a new 4G mast operating at 800 MHz could experience reception problems.
This could include loss of sound, blocky images or loss of some or all Freeview channels.
Television is central to the lives of millions of people across the UK so we've been working hard to minimise the impact this issue could have in the UK.
Our organisation, at800, was set up to ensure people across the UK continue to receive free-to-air television services when 4G operating at 800 MHz is launched where they live.
We're funded by all four of the main UK mobile operators, each of whom won allocations of the 4G spectrum in the 800 MHz band.
Is your TV at risk?
The communications industry regulator, Ofcom, tasked at800 to proactively address this problem, so we aim to identify the places that could experience reception issues before they are affected.
This means that before 4G masts are switched on, we use a model to predict which buildings could be affected and alert Freeview viewers.
We worked hard to refine this process of identification to allow us to be more accurate in predicting potentially affected viewers.
For example, we first ran a small scale pilot in the West Midlands in March 2013 and approximately 22,000 homes surrounding the 4G at 800 MHz masts were sent information in advance of the testing, asking them to contact at800 directly if they experienced problems with Freeview.
Before the test, our forecasting model predicted 120 households would be affected.
In fact, 15 households in the test area were found to suffer from problems with TV reception caused by 4G.
We then ran further pilots, one of which was in south east London to test for Freeview problems from 4G in an urban environment.
For this, approximately 170,000 household and business addresses in parts of Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets were contacted directly to alert them that they may see reception problems.
The results of this pilot helped us better understand which households will be affected when 4G is rolled out across the UK.
So what should you do if you're concerned about problems with Freeview as a result of the rollout?
If you'll be affected
We'll call you...
Once 4G at 800 MHz starts going live in an area, we contact specific households and businesses that we predict may be affected issue no later than four weeks before any interference could occur.
If we don't contact you directly through the post, any interference to your Freeview service is unlikely to be because of the 4G test, and TVs connected to a cable or satellite service are not affected.
... but if we don't
Anyone who's unsure if they've been contacted or should have been can always check with our contact centre.
If you notice problems with your Freeview service and think it might be because of the 4G at 800 MHz rollout try this online diagnostic tool or call us on 0808 13 13 800. Calls are free from most UK landlines and mobiles.
How we help
By giving us your postcode and thoroughly describing the type of disruption and the time at which it occurs, we can help to restore your Freeview service as soon as possible.
We aim to do this within 10 working days, either by sending an accredited engineer to visit your property, or posting you a filter to fit to your TV.
For those living in individual flats within large blocks, we will try to identify the person responsible for managing the communal TV aerial, and provide them with the relevant information and an at800 filter designed specifically for blocks of flats.
If we can't identify them, we will let the individual viewer know and ask them to contact their landlord on our behalf. When they get in touch with us, we'll provide their nominated installer with a special filter for use in a communal aerial system.
It is the responsibility of the landlord or property manager to arrange for it to be fitted.
We will also give extra support for those who may require it.
This includes those that are 75 or over, are registered blind or partially sighted, are eligible for disability living allowance, attendance allowance, constant attendance allowance and mobility supplement and those that have lived in a care home for six months or more.
To put the issue into perspective, the UK is not the first country to have to deal with this potential problem, although it is the only country in Europe providing proactive assistance.
If you're interested in getting more information, check out our website, at800.tv.