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Ofcom Awards License for New U.K. DVB-T2 HDTV Channels

Doug Lung

U.K. telecom regulator Ofcom announced this week that it is awarding 10 new HD channels to Arqiva, which supplies transmission services for the country's TV broadcasters. Arqiva was the only applicant for the licenses. Ofcom noted that the BBC has already expressed interest launch new HD services and that some channels could “go live” in some parts of the country as early as 2014.

Arqiva's new temporary Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) license will use spectrum in the 600 MHz band that was freed up in the U.K.'s digital transition. Ofcom has proposed reserving the 600 MHz band for DTT to facilitate possible future use of the remaining 700 MHz spectrum currently used by DTT for mobile broadband. U.K. broadcasters will not have to give up the 700 MHz spectrum until 2018 at the earliest.

The new HD Freeview broadcasts will use DVB-T2 and MPEG-4 video compression technology. Broadcasters will share the 600 MHz band with white space devices and wireless microphones. White space use of the spectrum could be rolled out next year. (See Ofcom Plans U.K. White Space Pilot Project.

Ofcom's statement said, “One point of substantive challenge was that the proposed interim DTT license might limit our ability to initiate any clearance of the 700 MHz band--for mobile broadband--if such a clearance was to begin before the end of the proposed minimum license term to the end of 2018. We have considered this argument carefully and decided, for the reasons set out in this statement, that the most proportionate way to address this issue is to add a clause in the license that will allow us to vary or substitute the frequencies awarded in the 600 MHz band, as necessary, ahead of the end of 2018 in order to facilitate any transition of DTT from the 700 MHz spectrum.

The new HD multiplex license runs until Dec. 31, 2018, but is revocable on a 24-month notice. In Ofcom Proposes U.K. Broadcaster Spectrum User Fee – May Pave Way for End of Off-Air TV in United Kingdom I reported the Ofcom does not expect this fee to be applied until after 2018, but did expect to introduce it around 2020. The introduction of these fees soon after the end of the license term could have an impact on broadcasters and Arqiva's desire to renew them. An earlier Ofcom report suggested terrestrial TV in the United Kingdom could be switched off in 2026.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.