The Auction for Spectrum to operate 4G Mobiles is now completed. OFCOM announced the 5 winning bidders in 2014.
They are – Everything Everywhere (Parent Company of Orange & T-Mobile), Hutchison 3G UK, Vodafone, Telefonica (O2) & a new entrant, Niche Spectrum Ventures (BT Group).
There is a lot of confusion over the different ‘flavours’ of 4G. There are now three versions of 4G in the UK.
The first is currently being rolled out by Everything Everywhere in selected Major Cities in the UK. This version is not really ‘true’ 4G in the real sense of the technology. It is 4G but is using the current /old 1800 MHz Spectrum. This doesn’t offer the full potential of the system.
The ‘real deal’ are the two ‘official’ Bands at 800MHz & 2.6 GHz (2600Mhz) These have been designed to offer specific benefits. The 2.6GHz Band is designed to operate in city centers & highly populated areas, where lots of users will be accessing simultaneously & large amounts of data will be demanded by multiple users. This high frequency band is excellent for high traffic areas. The lower band is at 800MHz. This is one likely to have the biggest impact – both on 4G coverage, as it offers excellent coverage over a wide area – but also as it is the band that is likely to cause significant interference to Freeview users in the UK.
First lets looks at the Good News – 800 MHz is excellent for covering a wide geographic area indoor coverage. This wavelength has excellent ‘propagation’ characteristics & will offer the operators much improved indoor coverage, especially for Orange & T-Mobile (currently using only 1800MHz) & 3 (using 2100MHz). In case you didn’t know Vodafone & O2 use mostly 900 MHz.
Now the Bad News – This 800 MHz spectrum is the top part of the old TV Band, covering UHF Channels 61 to 68. Thats where the flaw lies. All TV aerials, amplifiers & distribution systems were designed to operate across this frequency. Therefore they will see the 4G Signal, the aerial will pick it up & send it down the coax cable to any attached TVs, Amplifiers, Communal Systems etc. These new 4G signals will be at a much higher signal strength than the old TV Signals, added to that, there will be many more 4G Masts than TV Transmitters (due to frequency reuse). Estimates put 4G Masts at over 15,000 locations. Add together these two situations & you risk big problems. The amplifiers & certain Freeview equipment will, quite simply, overload & stop working. It really is that simple. You’ll have no idea its coming, until one day your TV works. The next day you leave the house, during the day one of the Mobile Phones companies turns on a 4G Transmitter in your area, you come home turn the TV & your screen says “Poor Signal”, “Bad or No Signal” or some other friendly, helpful error message. Thats it! Done! Also remember YouView customers all rely on Freeview for the main TV Services.
Conservative Estimates put the figure at 10% of households. This equates to about 2 Million Homes. Some industry expects put the figure much higher – based on the fact that potentially every TV Amplifier in the UK could be affected & they are thought to be as many as 5 Million Amplifiers in use – that makes the final total of affect users at 25% of UK homes. Staggering figures.
Thankfully Satellite – Sky & Freesat – will not be affected. Virgin Cable customers will also be unaffected.
As part of the process the Winning Bidders have had to fund a Help Scheme, to find those affected by 4G Interference. This organisation is known as ‘at800’ formally MITCO. They will offer various options. at800 feel that most affected users will simply be able to fit a filter to the aerial lead & this will solve the issue. Well, yes, if you have just the one TV connected directly to the aerial, then this really should be the answer. But they will only supply ONE filter per household, so if you have more TVs you will have to purchase & pay for any additional filters needed. Sounds OK so far, doesn’t it. But, if you have an amplifier, it could well be a Masthead amplifier, up on the roof, attached to the aerial mast. Any filtering will need to be installed BEFORE the amplifier, not after. If you add the filter after the distribution or amplifier, thats too late, the signal has already overloaded the amplifier – thus the signal is already unusable. at800 are currently suggesting those affected will be supplied a voucher to “help cover the cost” of any specialist works needed. The current suggestion is the voucher value will be £50. This is unlikely to cover the full cost of the works needed.
If you are affected by 4G interference there are two stops you must take. Contact at800 via their web site at800. Then call on the help of a qualified aerial installer. The best way to choose a qualified installer is to only use those Licensed to use the RDI Blue Tick & the associated 4G Qualification. We at AVAV Systems have completed the training & have the detailed technical knowledge needed to help solve any 4G issues.
The Operators have admitted some users will need to change their TV platform – the interference will leave them unable to use Freeview permanently. They will be offered Satellite or Cable, thought it is not clear if this only applies to one TV per household. OFCOM have suggested this figure will be approx 10,000 homes. We think the final figure will be higher – a lot higher.
Further to this some people may not be able to receive Freeview, Satellite or Cable. For these households at800 “will provide bespoke help”.
There is a Help Scheme for those over 75, on certain benefits, registered blind etc. This will function long the lines of the Digital Switch Over Help Scheme.
Just when you thought you it was all clear – there is also the potential that some Freeview Receivers are manufactured to such a poor standard that someone simply walking past your house using their 4G phone will knock out your TV reception until they have walked past! But thats another story (that no one is talking about) for another day. We think this a big issue, time will tell.
If you have any reception issues related to 4G 800 MHz Interference we at AVAV Systems are able to offer clear, concise & impartial advise & solutions. Call us today for prompt service.