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Planning Options for Digital Switchover


Consultation published: 09|02|2005
Consultation closes: 21|03|2005


  1. This consultation seeks views on which of the digital terrestrial television (DTT) planning options set out in this document is best suited to the achievement of digital switchover in the UK. Although most households will be able to choose between digital terrestrial, satellite and cable services (and possibly other platforms) for their television viewing after switchover, the migration from analogue terrestrial television and the extension of the DTT network raise particular planning and regulatory issues.

  2. In large part, these issues were addressed in December 2004 when Ofcom issued digital replacement licences (DRLs) to Channel 3, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Public Teletext. The licences include a date of 31 December 2012(-1-) by which all analogue transmissions must have ceased. The DRLs also require the licensees to adopt all current existing transmission sites in the UK (1154 over the whole of the UK ) for digital terrestrial transmission, and separately to ensure that DTT signals have coverage that is equivalent to, or at least substantially the same, as that served by the existing analogue terrestrial services. This consultation examines further the options for meeting these obligations.

  3. The Policy Statement which accompanied the DRLs on 29 November 2004 considered the question of coverage in some detail when evaluating the costs and benefits of full nationwide roll-out of the DTT network. In summary, Ofcom’s assessment was that there were compelling arguments in support of the full rollout of DTT such that, as far as possible, everyone who currently has access to analogue television would be covered by DTT signals post-switchover. These arguments reflect Ofcom’s statutory duties and take account of the equity, affordability and communications advantages of seeking to ensure that DTT is available to all television households. Of course, where other means of delivering digital television are available, households will choose the most attractive proposition for them.

  4. At present, the four nationally available analogue television services (BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and Channel 4) can be viewed by 98.5 per cent of UK households. In comparison the existing coverage of these services (and the other services which the PSBs are able to provide using digital transmission) from the 80 transmission sites from which DTT services are currently broadcast is around 73 per cent of households. Adopting all 1154 transmission sites for DTT will increase coverage significantly, but does not guarantee in itself that DTT availability will reach 98.5 per cent. Other important variables such as the power at which services are transmitted and the transmission mode(-2-) used will affect the coverage of signals.

  5. However, while coverage can be improved by increasing power levels or by broadcasting at the most robust transmission mode, doing so may increase the cost and the implementation risk of digital switchover. A change in the transmission mode will also affect the capacity of the DTT network. As a result, there are important trade-offs to be made in deciding on the most appropriate mix of these variables. This consultation considers, and seeks views on, those trade-offs.

  6. At present, while the DRLs do contain a specific obligation with respect to the nationwide roll-out of the DTT network, they do not specify other inputs such as power and mode. Instead, the licences require that DTT coverage matches analogue coverage, or is at least substantially the same as measured by reference to current analogue coverage. The Policy Statement issued alongside the DRLs recognised that this coverage obligation was not specific and proposed that Ofcom would consult further on this matter with the aim of resolving the issue by the end of March 2005.

  7. On DTT coverage, this consultation considers five alternative combinations of sites, mode and power. Three of these appear to result in coverage levels which would match or even exceed existing analogue levels. However, each of them would entail different costs and other implications and Ofcom wishes to hear the views of respondents on their relative merits. In light of the limited data currently available to allow an objective evaluation, Ofcom is also particularly keen to receive further information or substantiated arguments in support of one or more options. Once Ofcom decides on a preferred option it will consider whether variations should be made to the DRLs to reflect that option.

  8. This consultation also considers two other related matters: the potential use of the 8k variant of the DTT standard; and how current coverage deficiencies should be managed at switchover (see Section 7).

  9. The closing date of this consultation is 5pm on 21 March 2005. In view of the need to resolve the issues dealt with in this consultation quickly, respondents are asked to submit their comments as soon as possible, and certainly by no later than this deadline. Ofcom aims to amend DRLs as appropriate by the end of May 2005.

  10. Ofcom is particularly keen to hear the views of the digital platform operators, terrestrial broadcasters, transmission companies and also consumer and viewer groups regarding the practicability and likely costs of each of the proposed options. It would also welcome alternative proposals, provided they are practical and properly costed and take due account of the interests of consumers and the duties of Ofcom and its licensees.


1.- Overall leadership of digital switchover continues to remain with Government, including any public announcement of the formal switchover date

2.- Transmission mode is defined in the main body of this consultation

The full text of this document is available via the link below

Planning Options for Digital Switchover

Planning Options for Digital Switchover

Updated to correct minor error in paragraph numbering - 11|02|05 

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