UK fears for DTT over 4G interference

The UK government has admitted that nearly 2 million digital terrestrial households could have their service disrupted by 4G LTE mobile services as they roll out over the next few years.

This has met criticism from the broadcasting community, which has already had to contend with the threat of future erosion of DTT spectrum from LTE services hungry for extra bandwidth.

The UK’s culture minister Ed Vaizey has now confirmed in a written answer to a question in the country’s parliament that around 945,000 individual UK households using signal amplifiers, along with a further 953,000 homes with communal aerials, could experience TV interference when 4G mobile networks are launched. This followed a consultation involving regulator Ofcom on co-existence of DTT services and new mobile services in the 800MHz band, which concluded that households within about 2 Kms (1.25 miles) of an LTE mast would be affected. Up to 10,000 homes would not be able to receive a DTT signal at all, and would have to resort to satellite, cable or IPTV.

The government had already laid plans to tackle the problem by requiring the mobile carriers setting up 4G networks to foot the bill for alleviating the interference. This would create a fund of £180 million ($290 million) administered by a new independent agency called MitCo. This would distribute filters to affected homes, hooking up with the existing digital TV box to block out noise.

But, broadcasters are arguing these measures are inadequate and urging the government to take additional money from the auctioning of 4G spectrum to telecoms companies to pay for more comprehensive measures, presumably including some spectrum replanning. The auction of 4G spectrum is expected to raise around £2.5 billion ($4 billion) for the government, so there is potential to donate more for dealing with DTT interference.

Among the strongest critics of the 4G process has been the BBC, whose director of policy and strategy John Tate said: “4G is a great development but should not be allowed to interfere with people’s TV reception. There are plans in place that aim to reduce this interference, but we believe that sufficient money should be deducted from the 4G auction proceeds to prevent it altogether. This is based on the established principle that the polluter pays.”