North West retune: Freeview apologises for support delays

Freeview has apologised for delays on its support line, following recent technical changes to the Freeview service in parts of North West England.

Last week, changes at the Winter Hill transmitter - serving most of Cheshire, Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside - took place. The change was designed to give householders a chance to see if their aerial needed upgrading ahead of a final switch in April.

This has resulted in a surge of calls from individuals seeking assistance or having trouble retuning leading to delays for callers seeking help.

Viewers who need help retuning are being invited to look at Freeview's Online Retune Guides or retune videos.

Some older receivers, including old Humax receivers are more difficult to retune and may need a factory reset or first time installation to work.

Viewers who still can't restore channels are still being advided to call the Freeview support number. It's open seven days a week on freephone 0808 100 0288, with the line opening at 9am, running until 6pm Monday to Wednesday, until 8pm on Thursday and Friday and until 5pm at weekends.

What's happening?

A Government-supported scheme to clear the airwaves for more 5G services.

This means Freeview channels are having to move frequencies. 

This is being done on a region-by-region basis and it's now the turn of the BBC North West/ITV Granada region.

The changes started on 20th February and will complete on 22nd April 2020 (or a week later for viewers on the Isle of Man, which are linked to this TV region).

Why is this a problem in the North West TV region?

The Winter Hill transmitter supplies over 3 million households (and many more individuals) with a Freeview signal, meaning any changes have a substantial impact.

There is also a greater proportion of aerial installations in the region that will not be suitable for use on the new frequencies. Especially older aerials installed to work on Winter Hill's old analogue frequencies will struggle.

Additionally, communal aerial systems will need to be reconfigured to receive services on the new frequencies.

What's being done to prepare viewers for the change?

Between 20th February and 22nd April 2020, the BBC's main television channels are being broadcast twice - once on the new frequency, and once on the old frequency.

This will allow viewers to check to see if their aerial installation can handle the frequency change.

What does this mean for viewers?

After retuning, affected viewers should see BBC One North West on channel 1 and 751. Providing there's no picture break-up on 1, the aerial is fine for the final switch on 22nd April 2020, when viewers will need to retune after 6am.

But some viewers may only see BBC services on channels 751 to 777, instead of their normal places. This means the aerial will need to be replaced.

Some viewers, for example with older Humax boxes, may find the BBC channels including BBC One North West in the 800s instead. These boxes may need to go through a factory reset in order to restore channels, which will result in any scheduled recordings being lost.

And some viewers may find BBC One Wales on 1, instead of the correct regional news, due to signal overlap from Wales.

What help is available?

If viewers can't receive any or some of the main five channels after the 5G frequency clearance, and they don't have satellite or cable on their primary set, they are entitled to support, including an engineer visit and possibly a new aerial - paid for by the 5G mobile network operators who benefit from the frequency change.

This is where the Freeview support helpline comes in, which is currently dealing with high call volumes. The call handlers will try to assist viewers with retuning their devices correctly first, before referring viewers for any other support.

Is only Freeview affected?

Viewers with BT TV and TalkTalk TV are also affected, as part of their service is delivered through Freeview. 

Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat viewers are not affected.

Are HD channels affected?

BBC Four HD and Quest HD changed frequency on 20th February. Other HD channels, including BBC One HD and Channel 4 HD change on 22nd April. 

There have been other frequency changes at Winter Hill in the last few years - why is this one different?

Unlike previous frequency changes in recent years that have largely affected lesser known channels down the bottom of the channel list and some HD channels, which aren't available to all viewers, this change affects the most prominent channels.

For the first time since digital switchover in 2009, the subset of Freeview viewers who don't wander much further than the first five channels and those who don't regularly retune their TVs or boxes are directly affected. 

These users may not have invested in a wideband aerial that would support the new Freeview frequencies and may still use older Freeview boxes or TVs that are difficult to retune.

Has a staggered switch with simulcast been done before?

Yes. For example, viewers in parts of North East England went through a similar exercise last year when the local Pontop Pike transmitter was forced to abandon long-standing Freeview frequencies for 5G clearance.

Can I have more technical / detailed information about the changes?

Since 20th February 2020, the main BBC channels carried on Freeview multiplex PSB1 are being broadcast from Winter Hill on UHF channel 32 (new) and UHF channel 50.  Convert UHF channels to Frequency...

BBC channels are being broadcast on their correct Freeview channel numbers on the new frequency, but on channels 751-777 on the old frequency.

Viewers with older Group C/D aerials may struggle to receive a signal and will need a wideband aerial.

Landlords responsible for communal aerial systems will need have their systems reconfigured to pass through the correct frequencies to tenants.

Shortly after midnight on 22nd April, the simulcast of PSB1 will end and services on UHF 50 will cease. There will be a downtime for several hours meaning Freeview will be unavailable across the North West.

By 6am, signals will have returned. Following the BBC's lead, other channels will also have changed frequency:

PSB2, which carries ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, moves from UHF channel 59 to UHF channel 34.

PSB3, which carries the main five channels in HD, moves from UHF channel 54 to 35.

COM4, which carries Quest, QVC and 5USA among other channels, moves from UHF channel 58 to 29.

COM5, which carries Sky News, Dave and Pick among other channels, moves from UHF channel 49 to 31.

COM6, the home of channels including Talking Pictures and PBS America, is unchanged on 37.

In Manchester, the Manchester Television Network multiplex moves from UHF channel 57 to 27.

In parts of Liverpool, local TV and Sony Movies Classic move from UHF 21 to 24.

Additionally, many of Winter Hill's relays will also undergo frequency changes at the same time.