Skip to main content

U. K. DTV Conversion Underway

The transition to digital is well underway in the United Kingdom. Unlike the U.S. switchover that occurred nationally on June 12 last year, the U. K. transition is being done on an area-by-area basis. It began in 2008 and will wrap up at the Crystal Palace tower near London in 2012, the same year London will be hosting the summer Olympics.

The U.K. Web site The Engineer Online describes the digital switchover and the changes that are being made to Crystal Palace tower in the article Crystal clear: rebuilding Britain's broadcast infrastructure

In the United Kingdom, one company, Arqiva, is handling most of the transition work. The Engineer article notes that while the project so far is under budget, Arqiva is running short of time. To compensate, Arqiva is using heavy-lift helicopters to remove and replace antennas and supporting structures on the tops of towers. According to Chris Tuner, chief executive for business and strategy at Babcock, a subcontractor for the project, this is a first in that country.

"It's the first time heavy-lift helicopters have been used for this application in the U.K., but it has proved to be extremely successful," Turner said. "We can now complete lifts in hours rather than weeks, and the cost is roughly the same."

The U.S. TV broadcasters that completed their digital transition last year, but who may have to change channels again, will appreciate this comment from Mike Hughes, broadcast director at Digital UK after describing the benefits of DTV.

"[However], the switchover isn't going to be easy," said Hughes. "Once you start talking about digital technology, people think about tiny chips in boxes. They don't understand the size of the engineering involved."

Listening to the proposals for repacking the U.S. television broadcast spectrum in a much shorter time frame, I wonder if the people making those proposals understand how difficult will be for a TV stations to change channels. It isn't as simple as changing a value in a Web GUI or throwing a switch on the transmitter. In most cases this will mean a new antenna, transmission line and RF system, and if the station is changing bands or doesn't have sufficient backup or reserve transmitter capacity, a new transmitter as well.