‘Small-scale test’ casts doubt on 4G/Freeview issue

Despite the fears surrounding 4G signals and their impact on Freeview, a pilot scheme near Birmingham has shown few interruptions

A trial testing the effect of 4G on Freeview television signals has shown very few users to be affected by the conflicting technologies.

Concerns have been raised by telecoms regulator Ofcom that as many as 2.3 million homes could have their Freeview signal interrupted by 4G signals running over the 800MHz spectrum band when services go live later this year, as many use the nearby 700MHz frequency for their TV channels.

However, an experiment carried out by the mobile operator-funded organisation at800, which is part of the Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, seemed to prove otherwise.

The test ran 4G signals across Cradley Heath and Rowley Regis in the West Midlands – just to the west of Birmingham – covering around 22,000 homes. The residents were warned in a letter of the two-week trial and given a phone number to contact at800 if they had any problems with their TV service.

Of the 22,000 homes in the trial area, only 100 called to report an incident – and just 15 of these ended up being related to the 4G signals.

The issues that arose were all with televisions that had signal amplifiers, and in each case fitting the aerial with a filter that blocks 4G signals fixed the problem.

The government has put aside £180m to help residents affected by 4G interruptions to pay for such filters or cover installation costs if professionals need to be brought in to fit a device. This sum would be insufficient should 2.3 million homes need help. However, if the results of this trial are replicated on a wider scale, things could look very different.

Simon Beresford-Wylie, chief executive of at800, said the exercise was “useful”, but admitted it was a “small-scale test” and the organisation had only expected 120 households to be affected anyway.

“We’ll now improve our forecast model and look at the approach we use to tackle the issues we’ve seen,” he said. “Further extensive evaluation will occur during April and May, as masts are switched on for tests across larger urban areas.”   

Ofcom gave its approval to the pilot and sits on the advisory board ensuring at800 sticks to its mandate of carrying out these tests. However, a spokesman from the regulator wanted to make clear the findings of the trial could not be viewed as conclusive.

“They [at800] themselves have accepted this is a small-scale trial so it doesn’t lead to any concrete conclusions for how things would be affected on a national level,” he said.

Ofcom will continue its work with the advisory board and at800 for further trials to take place, but does not plan to carry any out itself.

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