Infrastructure works for 700MHz clearance programme completed ahead of schedule

Arqiva completes works on UK’s TV network 16 months early, freeing up spectrum for mobile operators to meet mobile data demands

03 September 2020, UK, London: The final step in the programme to move the UK’s terrestrial television service out of the 700MHz frequency band has been successfully completed by leading UK communications infrastructure and media services company, Arqiva. The last part of the infrastructure works took place at Kendal and on the Isle of Man on 19 August where channels were switched to the new frequencies in the last of 57 ‘clearance events’. 

The clearance of the 700MHz frequency band is required so that Ofcom can auction the spectrum for use by mobile network operators to meet the growing demand for 5G mobile broadband services. The programme has involved 465 main station and relay antennas, a total of 1,234 television transmitter site visits spanning the length and breadth of the country and has completed 16 months ahead of schedule, despite the impact of COVID-19.

Arqiva’s team has dedicated 1.2 million hours to the programme without causing disruption to television signals for the 17.8m Freeview households who were required to retune. Works included building a new temporary mast to stand alongside the iconic Emley Moor Tower. At 1,040ft (317m), the temporary mast stands as Britain’s seventh tallest structure. 

Arqiva is the sole provider of digital terrestrial television (DTT) services in the UK and around 80 per cent of its DTT transmitter sites – which transmit services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – were impacted by 700MHz clearance. Providing 99 per cent of the population with access to the main UK’s main television channels, Arqiva’s DTT transmitter network brings TV services into the homes of tens of millions of people, so any changes made were planned meticulously to minimise impact to viewers.

“The 700MHz programme is the largest broadcast engineering project since the digital switchover, and has been described as ‘performing open heart surgery’ on the nation’s television network. Around 20 million UK households enjoy Freeview services so a key requirement for this project was that the vast majority of them wouldn’t even know it was happening. The team has performed brilliantly, and the organisation behind making sure each step was completed in the correct order was phenomenal.

“Recent events have underlined the importance of television in providing people with news, entertainment and connections to the wider world. I’m incredibly proud of our team that, alongside this clearance programme, has continued to support Freeview by maintaining the network that broadcasts its signals into homes every minute of the day.”

“We’ve completed this programme ahead of the original schedule of December 2021, even taking into account additional restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Work has included changing multiple antennas, modifying existing transmitters and even building the seventh tallest structure in the UK at Emley Moor.

“We’ve had to find innovative solutions to the challenges we faced along the way, including ensuring service continuity for viewers; reducing the number of temporary masts to save time and money and working with finite expert resource to help deliver the programme.”

“The smooth and successful completion of this massive infrastructure project ahead of schedule and under budget is a huge testament to the collaborative efforts of our partners.

“We have overseen a quiet and successful revolution in the airwaves, under budget and ahead of time, which will lead to better mobile coverage for rural communities and unlock new ways for 5G to boost business productivity and improve people’s lives.”

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