After years of planning and step-by-step engineering, the U.K.’s switchover from analogue to digital-terrestrial TV broadcasts has finally been completed — marking the end of more than 70 years of analogue broadcasting in the U.K and opening the door for the launch of 4G mobile services in spectrum previously used by TV broadcasters.
The digital switchover has been taking place gradually over the past five years, region by region — although Ofcom started work on planning back in April 2004. The last region to make the switch — today — was Northern Ireland.
“Now that switchover is complete, Ofcom is looking forward to delivering the 4G auction as the next step in delivering new higher speed mobile broadband services,” said Ofcom CEO Ed Richards in a (self-congratulatory) statement.
Ofcom has reason to pat itself on the back. It spent this September in crunch talks with the major U.K. carriers and government ministers trying to avert further blocking actions to slow the launch of a 4G network this year. O2 and Vodafone, which will be bidding for spectrum freed up by the digital switchover, were unhappy about the head-start given to EE, which owns the Orange and T-Mobile brands, after Ofcom sanctioned its reuse of 2G spectrum for 4G services this year. The pair were therefore agitating to speed up the timetable for switchover spectrum clearance so they could launch their own 4G networks quicker.
As a result of the crunch talks, Ofcom announced as much as five months had been shaved off the rollout timetable — diffusing the risk of legal action being used to block EE’s launch at the end of this month, and paving the way for O2 and Vodafone to rollout 4G networks faster than they would otherwise have been able to — so likely from next Spring.