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Ofcom: When shall we squeeze Freeview's girth?

Luvvies and White Space tools can't even touch unloved bottom

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Ofcom wants to know when Freeview broadcasts should be kicked down the dial in favour of iPad-friendly 4G signals - and, controversially, whether the BBC should be recompensed when it happens.

Ofcom mooted the idea of shuffling Freeview aside onto new frequencies back in 2011, and put it into last year's plan with a 2018 date. Now the regulator would like some industry input on the exact timing of the shift and whether TV broadcasters should get a cut of the auction revenue as an incentive to clear out.

Digital telly uses less bandwidth than analogue telly does. In the UK, the band used for TV has contracted, leaving gaps at both the top and the bottom. The top gap, moniker'ed "800MHz", has been flogged off and will be filled with 4G networking over the summer, but the unloved bottom section remains empty.

The Americans contracted their TV downwards, leaving twice the gap at the top for 4G services into which the first 4G iPad launched. These days most 4G devices will run in the 800MHz band available in the UK, but releasing the 700MHz band would increase flexibility - and aid roaming too.

But it would mean relocating Freeview, which means replacing an unknown number of TV aerials across the nation, and replicating the interference problem currently being measured by at800 where TV boosters pick up 4G signals. It also means shifting some of the Programme Making and Special Events crowd (again) and reducing the bandwidth available to White Space devices which haven't even got UK approval yet.

Ofcom would like interested parties to pitch in with opinions on all that, and if it can (or should) be done by 2018. The consultation document (PDF, 44 pages, necessarily vague) also asks if existing broadcasters should get a cut of the revenue raised as the FCC is proposing in America, and the impact of ongoing discussions on EU harmonisation.

There's 96MHz of spectrum at stake, running from 694-790MHz, and it seems likely the mobile operators will get hold of it one way or another. Anyone wanting to influence the process has until 5 July to get a response in. ®

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