The communications regulator Ofcom has published the proposed digital switchover timetable for the UK, to begin in 2008.
More than half of UK households receive digital television through satellite, terrestrial, or cable television. However, digital terrestrial television signals currently only reach 73% of all UK homes. As a result of the crowded frequency spectrum, this coverage can only be extended by switching off the analogue transmissions.
The process will be phased by independent television franchise region, with each region taking about six months to convert, starting in 2008 and ending in 2012. The sequence of regions is the final recommendation of engineers and spectrum planners in order to reduce the risk of interference between transmission sites in neighbouring regions. It also takes into account the number of transmitters that would have to be converted in any one year together with international spectrum planning considerations.
Wales will be the first country to switch completely, scheduled for 2008. London will be among the last of the regions to be converted by the deadline set for the end of 2011, with the Channel Islands following in 2012.
The digital signal will be broadcast throughout each region with sufficient power to replicate the analogue coverage, and the analogue services will continue to be broadcast for a number of months to enable remaining viewers to convert to digital terrestrial, cable or satellite television.
The plan has been submitted by Ofcom to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry.
The actual year in which switchover begins and regions subsequently convert remains a matter for Government to determine as part of its overall switchover policy.
“The regional order is determined by complex technical considerations, and there is little room for manoeuvre,” said a representative of the Department for Media, Culture and Sport. “However, we will make no firm decisions on the timetable until we are satisfied that the interests of all consumers, including the most vulnerable, are appropriately protected.”
The current plan does not detail how much frequency spectrum will be released by the digital switchover process or how this might be allocated.
The Department of Trade and Industry has launched a new web site to advise consumers of the digital TV choices currently available at their postcode.