House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee inquiry into BBC future funding
Follow-up evidence to Shuja Khan’s appearance on 5 April 2022
This question was most recently discussed during the recent Digital and Radio Audio Review.
The final report concluded that radio spectrum has limited alternative uses:
“6.7 Two of the drivers for television switchover do not apply to the long-term transition of radio to digital. Firstly, VHF spectrum[footnote 132] used by FM services has limited alternative uses (for example, it is not attractive for mobile phone services) and it therefore lacks the financial value that analogue television switchover achieved. Secondly, to reach the widest possible coverage for digital television some analogue television spectrum needed to be reused. DAB networks could be expanded to higher levels without requiring reuse of any of the spectrum currently used for FM radio.”
The potential for spectrum to be re-used was covered in greater detail in Ofcom’s submission to the review.
Section 6 of the Ofcom report looked at potential alternative (non-broadcast uses) for the spectrum currently used by AM broadcasting in the Medium Wave band (530-1603 kHz) and FM broadcasting in Band II (87.5-108 MHz). The study concludes that:
Arqiva notes that interference risks would be a key consideration in any re-use of spectrum used for radio services, both to avoid interference internationally and to surrounding spectrum bands. This may mean that alternative uses would need to be low power in nature. The spectrum is adjacent to private mobile radio (80-87.5MHz) and Aeronautical (108-118MHz), which could require coexistence restrictions depending on any alternative use.
In relation to radio, the most obvious example of a conditional access enabled subscription service delivered via a broadcast platform is the satellite radio service SiriusXM in North Amercia.
Arqiva is not aware of any encrypted radio services with conditional access based around DAB or analogue radio broadcasting with radio broadcasters focusing on free-to- air delivery. We understand that it may be technically possible via the DAB standard to incorporate conditional access but we are not aware of any evidence of this being adopted. Crucially, this is not supported by UK receivers so it would require a full replacement of radio equipment if it was to be implemented.
In relation to DTT, the are examples from around Europe where conditional access and encryption has been used.
In the UK, ONdigital which was launched in 1998 (and became ITV Digital in 2001) was an attempt to develop a encrypted pay service built around DTT. The service was not successful and closed in March 2002. This led to the creation of Freeview built around DTT which offered a free-to-air services and has gone on to become a major success serving around 17m households according to Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) data.
In 2004, there was an attempt to introduce a pay element to Freeview with the launch of the Top UP TV service. This encrypted some TV channels and required a dedicated set top box to decode the signal. Top UP TV gained around 200,000 subscribers but ultimately ceased broadcasting in 2013.
Whilst the majority of DTT platforms have focused on delivering free-to-air unecrpyted TV services, across Europe there are some DTT services which have enabled a pay-TV component via encryption and a conditional access system built into a dedicated set top box e.g. the KPN Digitenne in the Netherlands. Some pay services built around DTT have also ceased, including the pay DTT service provided by Mediaset in Italy which ended in 2019.
14 April 2022
 https://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_ts/102300_102399/102367/ 01.02.01_60/ts_102367v010201p.pdf