4G mobile broadband will knock out digital TV, Ofcom warn

3 June 2011, 19:48   By Neil Hawkins

4G MOBILE broadband is currently being hailed as one of the saviours of the superfast broadband revolution.

tv watching with remote control
Credit: Goran Petric/Shutterstock.com

But yesterday Ofcom warned that the new 4G signals could cause constant interference for roughly 760,000 people watching free-to-air Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) services like Freeview.

Generation gap

4G signals will be used by mobile networks to transmit higher quality phone and video calls but, more importantly, the newly designated frequencies will become a highway for the enormous amounts of mobile data which are now being consumed on a daily basis.

The space on the airwaves for 4G mobile broadband has come from the great analogue TV switch off, which ran on the 800 MHz band.

DTT runs on a frequency band which is right next to and slightly overlaps with the 800 MHz band earmarked for 4G.

Problems are likely to arise for people living in the vicinity of a future 4G mobile mast.

Those in the immediate area, around 30,000 according to Ofcom estimates, will be in the 'Overload Zone' and are likely to have to resort to satellite TV services such as Sky or Freesat to enjoy The Apprentice without seeing Alan Sugar's face turned into a mass of cubed scramble.

People within a larger radius known as the 'Degradation Zone' may encounter less severe mobile broadband induced interference and see their signal strength drop.

Filter it

Ofcom have proposed a number of possible solutions to try and combat these issues.

For a start, the regulator will include "technical conditions" in licences for spectrum use to closely monitor the parameters within which the networks should be operating.

However, that step will still leave the 760,000 households we mentioned earlier, those fairly close to a 4G mast, subject to interference.

For those households Ofcom's next step is a system of filters both at the base station level and within a household's own Digital TV receiver.

As we noted above, a smaller proportion very close to the 4G masts might have to opt out of DTT altogether.

That's worrying both to consumers and to networks who might find themselves bearing some of those costs.

Ofcom's report says that "the majority of the costs should be borne by the future 800 MHz licensees" but that will be subject to further consultation which might mean individual homes eventually have to stump up the cash to continue watching TV uninterrupted.

Another proposed solution is to reduce the power output of mobile base stations or masts.

However, this could have a possible impact on the reach of 4G services, something Ofcom would presumably be looking to avoid.

The next generation form of wireless will, advocates say, be particularly useful for people in rural or hard-to-reach locations under served by home broadband.

4G could deliver connections of 30Mb or more to those currently struggling to get 2Mb.

If anyone from Ofcom is reading this we've come up with another solution here at Choose Towers.

It's more 'be the box' than 'outside the box': with the advent of high bandwidth, fast, mobile broadband connections, why bother with a TV at all...

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