The Government is having to step in and compensate those who will have their TV reception crippled once 4G mobile networks roll out next year.
The Government has set aside a new £180m scheme to assist customers who experience interference on their TV sets once the UK’s 4G mobile services launch next year. It will be providing free filters to block the interference, as well as support to the elderly and disabled to manage the transition.
For where this solution doesn’t work, customers will be moved to cable or satellite based TV. In extreme cases, the Government will be stumping up £10,000 per household if the issues cannot be resolved.
The announcement is another hiccup for the long and tortured UK 4G rollout, which has seen endless delays back to the Gordon Brown administration.
Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, is now planning to auction radio spectrum at the end of this year, for a potential rollout of the next generation 4G LTE mobile phone networks in 2013.
The government and the opposition have been unhappy with the progress Ofcom has been making in organising the spectrum auction – which was originally due to occur in 2009. Key economic rivals the USA South Korea and Germany all have functioning 4G networks up and running.
Much of the spectrum being made available for the new mobile networks has come from analogue terrestrial broadcast TV, which had to be shifted to the digital terrestrial free-to-air platform Freeview.
Ofcom told CBR in December that the UK’s heavy reliance on digital terrestrial TV – around 50% – is unusual when compared to other markets, and this has caused much of the transitional problems.
The government’s announcement suggests the transition is not going as smoothly as planned. Culture Minister Ed Vaizy has said that affected homes will be provided with solutions to this interference through a help scheme that will be funded and run by the mobile operators that buy the spectrum.
"More and more of us are using smartphones and tablets to access the Internet. Releasing more spectrum is essential to enable industry to meet this growing demand. Next generation mobile services are essential for economic growth. They will bring an estimated benefit of £2-3 billion to the UK economy," he said.
"There will be some interference when 4G services are rolled-out but we will have the solutions in place to eliminate the disruption to television viewers."
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Media, Helen Goodman goes a step further and believes that it is costing the economy £1 million a day.
"The auction could have taken place in 2010 but this government decided not to give Ofcom the backup to go ahead with the sale of 4G," said Goodman.
The help scheme will be overseen by a company which will be managed by mobile operators that buy the spectrum. Ofcom will shortly consult on exactly how the help scheme should work.
Ofcom are currently consulting on the rules covering the spectrum auction, which is closing March 22. The auction is due to be carried out in the fourth quarter of this year, network rollouts to follow shortly after with a reasonably mature market by 2015.
The auctions are not expected to reach the heady heights of the 3G auctions in 2000, when UK companies spent nearly £22bn on radio spectrum. The companies were so overburdened with debt, some could not even afford to build their networks, while others built on the cheap. It is often cited as one of the reasons for the Telecoms Crash in 2001. The telcos have been approached the looming 4G build with dread (read CBRs special report here).