After the Freeview clearance, are satellite viewers next?

After years of Freeview retunes to make way for 5G, could satellite TV users be next to be affected by frequency changes? 

One of the organisations seeking to protect TV frequencies has warned that attempts to reassign frequencies used by satellite TV in favour of mobile telecommunication are underway, following last month's World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), held in Egypt.

The EBU, the Switzerland-based organisation which represents public broadcasters across Europe, including the BBC, ITV and S4C in the UK, reports that the conference decided, unexpectedly, to commence studies on the potential use of a number of frequency bands for fixed wireless broadband International Mobile Telecommunication technologies

One of the bands to be studied is the Ku-band, specifically the range between 10.7 to 11.7 GHz, which is currently used for direct-to-home TV reception in many countries. Many Sky and Freesat channels are currently broadcast on these frequencies.

The good news for satellite users is that the potential opening of the band will not be discussed before 2027, depending on the outcome of the studies in the years leading up to the next WRC in 2023.

However, it could lead to some uncertainties for satellite operators seeking to renew their fleet, given satellites are expected to be in service for 10-15 years.

The WRC is arranged by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations agency tasked at coordinating global frequency usage; its decisions are then adopted by Governments and regulators at national level.

As previously reported, digital terrestrial television - Freeview in the UK - was protected from further changes for the time being at WRC 2019 after attempts were made to claim more frequencies for 5G. Since 2017, viewers in various parts of the UK have had to retune Freeview due to a previous WRC decision to assign some Freeview frequencies to 5G, a decision supported by Government. The frequencies will be auctioned off in the spring.

The potential future changes to frequency usage underline the importance in improving current internet connectivity, in order to give more TV viewers a viable option to access television via their broadband connection - affordability, availability and reliability present many variables and barriers across the country. These barriers mean that Sky's long-anticipated internet-only TV service (already up and running in other countries) can't yet have the same level of coverage or reliability as satellite television.

Some member organisations of the EBU are looking at the possibilities that 5G Broadcast might offer, effectively using the last available TV frequencies to create a free public network that TVs, mobiles and tablets can connect to in order to access public broadcasts.