700 MHz Clearance programme: The Journey | Freeview

700MHz Clearance
Programme


The journey

Specialist helicopter airworks during the 700MHz programme (Video: Arqiva)

Specialist helicopter airworks during the 700MHz programme (Video: Arqiva)

About

The 700MHz Clearance Programme was a major infrastructure project mandated by UK Government marking the biggest change to the terrestrial TV network since digital switchover.

The project began in November 2014 when Ofcom announced its decision to reallocate part of the frequency spectrum used by Freeview for the development of future mobile services.

A similar process is currently taking place across Europe, as spectrum is reassigned to meet a predicted increase in demand for mobile data. As a result, Freeview channels occupying these airwaves were required to move to new frequencies.

Digital UK was responsible for delivery of the programme on behalf of UK broadcasters. Our role was to ensure required technical changes to the TV transmitter network were carried out on time while minimising disruption to viewers and the Freeview platform.

Starting in parts of Scotland during the summer of 2017, work was carried out region-by-region across the UK and completed in Kendal and the Isle of Man on 19 August 2020.

The successful delivery of such a large-scale project required close cooperation with Government and Ofcom, broadcasters and Arqiva, which owns and operates the transmitter network. We also worked in partnership with Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), Freeview and industry to support viewers through the process.

The 700MHz Clearance roll-out map of the UK

This map shows the start date for 700MHz clearance events at affected transmetter groups across the UK. Further events may have taken place at each group until Q3 2020.

This map shows the start date for 700MHz clearance events at affected transmetter groups across the UK. Further events may have taken place at each group until Q3 2020.

Updating the airwaves

Emley Moor Tower alongside the new temporary mast, built for the 700MHz Clearance Program

Emley Moor Tower alongside the new temporary mast, built for 700MHz Clearance (photo: Arqiva).

Emley Moor Tower alongside the new temporary mast, built for 700MHz Clearance (photo: Arqiva).

A major nationwide engineering programme, 700MHz Clearance took place as a series of 57 staged ‘clearance events’.

Complex technical changes were carried out by engineers from Arqiva at more than 1,200 television transmitters, which serve more than 20m households.

This included the use of specialist helicopters to update some broadcast antennas and the building of a new temporary mast to operate alongside the iconic Emley Moor Tower in Yorkshire. Standing at 317m (1,040ft), this became the seventh tallest structure in Britain.

Viewers receiving Freeview channels were required to retune their TV equipment when changes at their local transmitter were completed. In a small number of cases, older aerials needed to be replaced for viewers to continue watching all available services due to the change in frequencies used.

Achievements

57 ‘clearance event’ dates

Changes across 14 TV regions

1,200+ transmitters updated

1.2M man-hours of work by Arqiva teams

317-metre temporary mast built at Emley Moor

17.8M Freeview homes affected

Supporting viewers and industry

Members of the 700 MHz Clearance Programme Team, Digital UK in a virtual meeting.

Members of the 700 MHz Clearance Programme Team, Digital UK

Members of the 700 MHz Clearance Programme Team, Digital UK

As part of managing the overall programme, Digital UK worked in close partnership with Freeview and Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL) to provide support for viewers during these required changes.

While clearance was a national programme, for most it felt very much like a local event. A comprehensive information campaign was carried out ahead of updates in each area, including local advertising and on-screen messages broadcast directly to those home affected.

Viewer support

Freeview video guide to retuning

Details were also provided online through a dedicated TV Changes section of the Freeview website, including video guides to retuning and a retune checker allowing viewers to check for specific changes at their address.

Those in need of extra help with adjusting their TV equipment were supported by the Freeview Advice Line, which provided step-by-step guidance on retuning and reception via a free telephone number, email and webchat.

Free in-home assistance was available to support more vulnerable viewers and where issues with equipment were more complex, including aerial realignment or replacement where necessary. This was delivered by DMSL under a Code of Service agreed with Government, to ensure those relying on Freeview for their main TV service received the support needed.

In all, around one percent of affected households contacted the Freeview Advice Line for support during clearance, with most requiring simple advice on retuning their particular brand of TV, recorder or set-top box.

Industry support

DMSL installers provided in-home support for viewers (photo: Digital Mobile Spectrum Ltd)

DMSL installers provided in-home support for viewers (photo: Digital Mobile Spectrum Ltd)

To support industry through the required changes, including aerial installers, housing providers and retailers, Digital UK published regular updates and technical bulletins on the changes, working closely with Freeview, broadcasters and leading bodies such as the Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI) and Registered Digital Installer Licencing Body (RDI-LB).

Briefings were also provided to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to ensure its specialist contact centre staff and Technology Support Squad, which provides tech-related in-home assistance for those who are blind or partially sighted, were updated on the programme.

Key stats at a glance*

  • 300+ days of on-screen messages
  • 700+ local print ads
  • 77M+ Facebook ad impressions
  • 3M+ TV changes page views
  • 80K+ postcards issued
  • 200K+ viewers helped by the Freeview Advice Line 
  • 40K+ home visits

* Figures to end-August 2020

Rooftop view of red brick houses, TV aerials and chimneys (Image credit: Tom O'Neill, Unsplash)

Additional challenges

Front door of 10 Downing Street

10 Downing Street (Photo: Tom Robinson RLC/MOD - OGL License)

10 Downing Street (Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/MOD - OGL License)

Man dressed in a Union Jack suit celebrating the Royal Weding

Celebrating the Royal Wedding, Windsor (Photo: King's Church International - Unsplash)

Celebrating the Royal Wedding, Windsor (Photo: King's Church International - Unsplash)

Satellite view of the 'Beast from the East' storm

Satellite view of the 'Beast from the East' storm (photo: NASA)

Satellite view of the 'Beast from the East' storm (photo: NASA)

Hands holding a large bottle of hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer (Photo: Kelly Sikema- Unsplash)

Hand sanitizer (Photo: Kelly Sikema- Unsplash)

Close up of a nesting osprey

Nesting osprey

Nesting ospreys

A number of additional challenges presented themselves during the rollout of the programme.

Engineering work was reviewed and replanned to cater for several events:

A snap general election

June 2017


A royal wedding

May 2018


Extreme weather conditions due to ‘The Beast from the East’

March 2018


Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

March 2020


Nesting ospreys at a transmitter in Aberdeenshire


Success

"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 revolution in the airwaves 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."

Matt Warman, Digital Infrastructure Minister - Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Looking up inside the Crystal Palace transmitter

Crystal Palace transmitter (photo Arqiva)

Crystal Palace transmitter (photo Arqiva)

"This is a major milestone for improving mobile services across the UK.

It’s been possible thanks to the meticulous planning and hard work from a range of organisations - all working together to make sure this huge project ran smoothly and minimising any disruption to TV viewers.

The airwaves will now be available to use immediately after our upcoming spectrum auction, bringing better mobile and innovative new services a significant step closer."

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director - Ofcom

Facade of the Ofcom building, Southbank - London

Ofcom building, Southbank - London

Ofcom building, Southbank - London

"We’re pleased to have helped coordinate these required changes to the 700MHz spectrum band with Government and our broadcast partners, and have worked closely with Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL) to support Freeview viewers through the programme and ensure they can continue to enjoy free-to-air television. "

Kate Macefield, 700MHz Clearance Programme Director - Digital UK

A couple sitting on a sofa watching Freeview Pla.

Used in 18m homes, Freeview is the biggest TV platform in the UK.

Used in 18m homes, Freeview is the biggest TV platform in the UK.

Completion

Funded by the DCMS, the 700MHz Clearance Programme was estimated for completion at the end of 2021 at a cost of £400 million.


The project completed in August 2020 at a cost of under £350 million and was classed by Government as a Major Portfolio Programme completing ahead of schedule and significantly under budget.


Ofcom is planning to release airwaves in the 700MHz band for use by mobile companies at an auction expected to take place in January 2021.


The Crystal Palace Transmitter, by Tony Stamp (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)