Britain’s switchover to digital TV has been a protracted and painful process. Millions have been spent on promotional campaigns in the last five years, alerting viewers to the end of analogue services and the necessity of retuning televisions and receivers.
Just as it seemed that the worst was past and the majority of British viewers were comfortable with the new digital age, comes news that it might have to happen all over again. The new generation of smart-phones is to blame.
Mobile networks are now demanding a larger share of the broadcasting airwaves in order to provide faster and more reliable internet connections. The digital TV services provided by Freeview, BT and TalkTalk will be the victims. Televisions and set top boxes will have to be retuned. In some cases rooftop aerials will need to be upgraded. For viewers who live close to phone masts, it might even be necessary to set up filters to prevent interference.
It’s not quite the vision of a blissful new era of digital broadcasting that we were promised. The root of the problem is that the government can make considerable sums by auctioning off the mobile spectrum. The 4G auction in January is predicted to raise in the region of £4 billion.
Digital television providers become sidelined in the face of such revenue possibilities. Freeview chairman Charles Constable told The Guardian: "Ofcom has yet to make the case to justify today's proposed long-term changes to allocate more future spectrum to mobile use, especially given the disruption they will cause to Freeview viewers."
Some of the revenue raised by the auction has been set aside to cover the costs of replacing aerials or providing new filters for some users. It is apparent though that digital TV viewers can expect considerably more disruption in the future if the demand for mobile capacity continues to multiply.