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DTG Summit: Freeview 700 MHz band for 4G very likely, BBC pay-Freeview not

I was fortunate to win some tickets to the annual meeting of the Digital Television Group at the DTG Summit today. The theme of the day was "co-allocation", a rather innocuous term for handing over the Freeview transmission bandwidth to mobile phone operators. We also learnt how advanced the plans are for Freeview to be equipped for a conditional-access to replace the TV Licence and saw the latest Freesat and YouView equipment.

The Digital Television Group Summit 2014  Photograph: Brian Butterworth
The Digital Television Group Summit 2014 Photograph: Brian Butterworth
published on UK Free TV

Before I tell you about co-allocation, I think it is worth mentioning a few other things I learnt today. Please do see the see FITT report, which came out today Future of Innovation in Television Technology Taskforce.

Freesat Freetime

First, is that the rather amazing Freesat Freetime app for Apple devices is coming to Android at some point. This application once linked to your Freesat Personal Video Recorder box has all the features you might expect for finding TV programmes to record.

In addition, when you have content recorded on your box, the application shows you the details of the shows, and allows you to select and play the one you want. This makes it also as simple as Google Chromecast to pick and play TV content.

I have to say that I am very fond of Freesat Freetime: the interface is slick and simple and it "just works" and it is simple to access on-demand content: you can even step back though seven days of watchable content by just going left in the TV listings.

YouView, version 2

I was pleased to see that the second version of the YouView box was actually usable. The first box, which I had obtained from BT, I found to be unresponsive and buggy. The old box took ages to wake up, the interface was slow. If the internet failed for some reason, you had to disconnect the Ethernet cable and reconnect it to alert the YouView box to the return of your ISP service.

The new box, which I got to use for a few minutes, was much faster and thus responded to key presses when you made them, not seconds later. However the box did manage to forget about the MHEG5 text services and so would not access Red Button when asked.

Freeview and BBC "subscriptions"

In the session on Evolution of DTT, in the Q+A session that followed, I was able to ask Jonathan Thompson (CEO, Digital UK) about the migration planning for the BBC to become a subscription service, so that the Licence Fee could be replaced in January 2017.

The answer was that there are no plans in place to do this: Freeview is primarily a free-to-air platform and the stated policy is that it will remain that way.

Co-allocation

You may recall that I have been posting for quite some time about the (Ofcom channel bingo II - introducing the bands) change of use of about one third of the existing Freeview broadcast spectrum for use by 4G mobile broadband.

It appears that (athough Minsiter Ed Vaize was not draw to a final commitment) the working assumption is that this will happen shortly.

The actual process will require the Ofcom Consultation to come out in favour, this is then forwarded to the EU who will agree this at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (WRC-15). It is the WRC who would agree to the "Co-allocation" of 698MHz to 786MHz (C49 to C60)

What Co-allocation means in practice: switchover II

If the co-allocation plan goes though, then if you use Freeview you have a good chance that all you may have to do is perform another retune at some point.

If you Freeview and have a wideband aerial, then it is almost certain that all you will to do is retune. However if you have a "grouped" aerial, someone will probably have to pay for you to have it replaced.

The reason for this is that when transmitters were changed from analogue to digital care was taken to keep the transmission in the same aerial groups: the planners wanted households to keep their aerials.

However, this was not the most efficient use of the UHF channels. If the constraint of keeping transmitters in their same group is removed then 12 lots of 8MHz in the UHF band can be re-purposed for mobile broadband, whilst keeping the current PSB multiplex coverage.

The projections also suggest that the change to this new plan may reduce the coverage of the commercial multiplexes (COM4, COM5, COM6) by a small amount.

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Comments
Thursday, 22 May 2014
J
James
11:38 AM
Highbridge

I think it is important to separate out the issues that really matter here. I don't mind if I get my 'free to air' TV via an aerial or the internet as long as....

-The quality is the same or better
- Coverage footprint is the same or better
- The Choice is the same or better
- I can watch on portable TV (or I guess phone/tablet) as easily as I do now
- I'm not having to pay data charges

We also have to consider public safety issues - would information get to people as reliably in times of emergency? Care would have to be taken to make sure people who have not embraced the internet are not excluded.

Technology changes are always an opportunity to 'smuggle through' changes such as turning the BBC into a subscription service, so we have to be careful.



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James's 11 posts GB
L
LindaB
8:21 PM

Briantist
You're still talking as if everyone wants some form of TV service delivery by a form of internet, whether it be 4G , 3G, WiFi or fibre. Many older people will never agree to paying for something they don't see any need for, considering that analogue TV served them very well for a great many years.
Leave internet or IP delivery methods aside as they will not be the 'universal panacea' for everyone, so what other delivery methods do the 'powers that be' plan to use for those not able or willing to use other delivery methods?
Using the UHF spectrum served very well from the mid sixties and it still viable now, even though the encoding method has changed (apparently bring new nighmares for viewers if yiur read these pages as I know you do). The 'modern' ideas just don't seem to take account of customer/viewer inertia, people are loath to splash out good money for something unproven - especially if they have had difficulties with the digital switchover.

By the way, buffering is a fact of life where I am, in a large town in the West Country but still awaiting fibre in our area. Our ADSL2+ is fairly good but still not good enough to view a TV programme uninterrupted by buffering. I suspect that the link from the exchange to us is not the limiting factor.

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LindaB's 5 posts GB
Friday, 23 May 2014
Ian
sentiment_satisfiedGold

1:03 PM

Yes buffering is still very much alive and well, making out Now TV unusable at times, just upgrading to Sky fiber to see if it makes any difference.

"wireless internet (as pointed out in the same session) is still a radio transmission and never immune from interruption"

So that means internet TV will be the death of the truly portable TV then. DTT certainly stabbed it in the back as most cant run with an indoor aerial.

I cant help but think this is just another idea to squeeze yet more money out of everyone. New equipment, internet charges, data charges etc.

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Ian's 497 posts GB
Saturday, 24 May 2014
J
John purkis
10:22 AM

Brian Hi,
You keep talking about this codex being improved and having better compression.
Is it a hardware improvement or a software improvement?
From my simple mind rather than going from step 1 to step 2 to step 3 etc on improvements could someone right it from step 1 to step 10. There must be a point were no more compression is possible without losing picture quality.

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John purkis's 1 post GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

10:54 AM

John purkis: A simple answer with a complex answer. Let me go and crab a coffee.

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

11:23 AM

John purkis: Here goes.

Let me start with a tiny bit of pedantic: the word is codec (not codex) which is a contraction of coder-decoder.

The answer to your question about it being hardware or software is more complex.

Strictly speaking the codec is software. Any new codec development is always done first in software. This is how it is developed and tested, but the implementation is somewhat more complicated.

The name of "coder, decoder" is split into two parts because there are going to be two bits of software, when it comes into use., For broadcast TV the coder software will be running in 19 inch rack module, somewhere in a air-conditioned broadcasting play-out suite, and the "decoder" software will need to be somewhere between the aerial and the TV screen in millions of homes.

(if the same software is used online the "coder" software is going to be running on a server in the same room or an identical one "in the cloud" to use modern parlance) and the "decoder" running in the box of a PC, tablet or other mobile device).

What you tend to find is that most consumer electronics solutions (televisions, set-top boxes, PVRs) will have a dedicated "chip" in them to perform the conversion of the coded bitstream back into pictures and audio.

This might seem strange when a the cost general-purpose "CPU" chips is so low. However, the economics of the industry have, up to now, rendered the "hardware" solution to the decoding software the most viable. This parallels the use of GPU chips ("graphics processing unit") in desktop computers and mobile devices: these chips are designed to do very specific computing tasks very quickly and nothing else.

At the "coder" end the software is usually sold to the broadcasters with specific hardware, so rather than a box having a general-purpose operating system, it is configured to be part of a chain of hardware. In this case the "coder" is seen as "firmware".

Going back to your point about the steps: the answer is that this is down to Moore's Law, which states that the cost of a given amount of computing will half every 18 months.

This wonderful law means that (say) a "decoder" that is sitting on a £2,000 bit of development kit will be a £500 business item after 3 years and a £125 high end consumer item after another 3 years and be in the bargain basement for £30 after another 3.

Your final point about "losing picture quality" is also another function of Moore's Law and the use of firmware that I have highlighted above.

The option always stands to provide a trade-off between quality and number of services.

But you can keep the same quality, but reduce the bitrate if you can also:

a) have more "RAM" memory in the coder (easy, just one to change)
b) have more memory in the decoder (hard, fixed on a chip in millions of home);
c) have more raw processing power to look for patterns to match in the coder (easy, just one again);
d) change the raw processing power in the decoder (impossible without new kit in every home)
e) improve the software techniques in the coder (easy if it doesn't require software changes in the decoder)
f) improve the software techniques in the decoder (hard)
g) can increase the number of "difference" frames, reduce the number of "raw" frames (great, but it can take ages to change channel on a TV).

It's easy if you have general purpose hardware (PCs, tablets, phones) to change the decoder software, but actually impossible for domestic receivers.

Sorry if the reply is a bit complicated.


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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
Briantist
sentiment_very_satisfiedOwner

11:32 AM

LindaB: Thanks for getting back.

You seem to be conflating IP services with "pay" and broadcast with "free". I'm not sure if that would be the case going forward. It certainly might be possible to set up a national free-IP service to replace Freeview at some point in the future: but it doesn't seem very likely to happen before 2025 - at the moment.

To play the 4G arguments again (rather than my own view) then there has to come a point where you can't just allow one "luddite" section of the population to require a disproportionate access to a public good (UHF frequencies).

If there are still people who want to watch linear television by 2025, then they should not be denied such a service, but what you call "inertia" and "modern' ideas" are not good arguments to those wishing progress. We don't allow sheep farmers on motorways: but we still have both lamb to eat and Eddie Stobart.

I would suspect that if you are in an area with poor copper then you're going to be perfect to switch to 4G.

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
M
MikeB
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

1:41 PM

Briantist: I think Jame has laid out the issues very well - for most people the question is largely what is the easiest, most reliable and most cost-effective system/s?

Your also right to point out that this probably a decade away, at least. I understand exactly why 'Freeview' are fighting so hard for as much spectrum as possible - without any spectrum fro Freeview, there is no Freeview, and hence no business. And even though more advanced codec's, etc will allow a more efficient use of spectrum, Freeview are fully ware that saying yes to whatever the mobile industry says now will set a prescident for what is to come, which would be even less spectrum for Freeview. You have what you hold....

However, using broadband/4 or 5G to 'transmit' TV does throw up its own problems. There is of course the problem of capacity and reach - buffering is alive and well, thanks to low speeds in both rural and urban areas, and Moore's Law does not cover the general increase in capacity we would need, at least not on our present course.
That capacity will have be more larger that currently to keep up with the demands of both internet use and new TV technology. Samsung reckon that 4K Tv's will be where the market will be within 5 years (the highest level Panasonic this year is 4K, whereas even Samsung have a Full HD in that bracket). Sharp are going to launch a 4K recorder in Japan (who are going to try out 4K broadcasting) - a1Tb hard drive will record just 52 hours of 4K TV, whereas SD would get you 400 hrs, and HD around 200. Thats a lot of data, and of course you have to think what a household will use.

The other problem is 'net neutrality'. Its barely been mentioned here in the UK, but its certainly big in the US. There is a good guide here : The FCC's Net Neutrality Proposal Explained | The Nation . Think about the UK - if BT/Virgin/EE want to restrict speeds of rival services or ask for a 'fee', will that be something that is good for the customer? It will be interesting to see how Ofcom will handle this.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB
L
LindaB
7:28 PM

Briantist
I'm not conflating at all. Many older people have no intention of paying anything to have a 'broadband' service of any kind. The current model is to pay for the provision of such a service. In the past TV was always 'Free To Air' as is Freeview currently. Many models for the future seem to assume some payment will be required, but again many will not wish to pay for anything like that. Further, many do not see why they have to keep changing equipment just to watch their favourite programmes as they have done for more than 50 years.
You, and others here, are taking a view with a technology hat one. Take that off and wear an 'older customer' hat and you get a totally different [perspective.

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LindaB's 5 posts GB
M
MikeB
sentiment_very_satisfiedPlatinum

9:14 PM

LindaB: To be fair, any changeover is not being mooted until about 2025-30. If you mean 'older customer' your talking about someone whose say, 75, they are only in their early sixties now. And my customers in that age group vary from knowing nothing about the net, TV's etc to those who love new technology and are buying OLEDs.

However, your right in that not everyone wants or needs the internet (be it broadband, 4G, etc) or lives in an area where that can be easily supplied. Like lots of things, the technology might move quicker than human nature - and I suspect that what the market wants will govern the pace of change and its direction.

Brianist: It would be really interesting to have an article about the run up to digital switchover, from its being announced to the public to its actual start. I know you did one about Greg Dyke and Freeview, but a look back at what the media thought would happen (and the TV industry) would be very interesting. It might also be worth seeing what people on this site thought, and were they correct?

Such an article would offer some perspective on such changes, and how people react to them.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB
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