From later this year, some viewers may need to take action if they find their Freeview signal has deteriorated.
TVs and aerials are designed to receive services in the frequency band now being converted to use by 5G internet services. An auction of these frequencies starts on 12th March. Freeview will continue broadcasting on frequencies just under the 700MHz band.
Some households may find their TV aerial is receiving the interfering 5G signal, affecting Freeview reception. This may present itself though blocky pictures and glitching. Where the 5G signal is strong, it may swamp the TV tuner with interference. And where boosters/amplifiers are being used, they may actually boost the interference making the problem worse.
Current 5G services use different frequencies and don’t cause interference to Freeview. But older 4G services may cause interference in some circumstances. 5G will only become a problem for some viewers once they go live in the 700MHz frequency band, right next door to Freeview’s frequencies. Even then, many households may not experience any issues.
Free support will be made available to households affected by these changes. This will be the case if the household relies on Freeview and no other TV service on their main TV set. Further details will be communicated to affected households.
Hasn’t this happened before?
Viewers already had to adjust their TVs and in some cases make changes to their aerial system in 2012-2013, when TV frequencies were sold off for 4G mobile. This resulted in some households requiring a 4G filter to stop interference. In other cases, a new aerial was required due to the new frequencies being used for Freeview in some parts of the UK.
In the next few years, the same is likely to happen again. Some older TV aerials may be more susceptible because of the frequency range they are optimised for.
Some households will need to have new filters, as the existing 4G filters designed to block out the 800MHz band will not block the 700MHz frequency band. However, any installation work will provide an opportunity in some areas. As a result of frequency changes between 2017 and 2020, some may get a better reception from a different transmitter. Aerial installers will have the chance to check a household’s aerial system and the direction the aerial points in when complaints of Freeview reception issues come in.
In some areas, some Freeview channels are still using the 700MHz band. Affected channels include BBC Four HD, FreeSports and Quest HD. A 700MHz filter installed now will therefore cancel reception. The multiplex carrying these channels, COM7, is due to be closed in the near future.
How many people have been affected by mobile interference?
By August 2017, when the publication of statistics in the public domain was halted, 22,121 confirmed cases of 4G interference to Freeview had been reported. These cases had to be remediated for free by at800, a company set up by the mobile network operators to mitigate incoming interference to Freeview from their networks. This was a far cry from the millions of households reported in 2012 when news of the 4G scheme first emerged.
Since 2017, further 4G filters have been issued and installed and the frequency changes (spectrum clearance) between 2017-2020 have resulted in numerous aerial adjustments. New equipment is designed to filter out the 800MHz band. Therefore, many potential cases of interference may have been resolved at the same time.