Ever heard of at800? It's the company designed to fix a problem before it even occurs, to keep your telly watching pristine and to safeguard your 4G signal

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As the arrival of 4G edges closer, we thought it would be helpful to bring you the inside track on some of the work that’s being done to lay the pathway for a smooth network roll out and – even more importantly – the best possible experience of 4G for everyone.

We’ve already told you about our roll out plans and our agreement to share masts with O2 to provide coverage using 2G, 3G or 4G services to 98% of the UK population, but what else goes into planning before you can switch on a new network service of this scale? Well, some of it involves engineering the radio waves that we can’t even see, to safeguard the things we can.

Confused? No worries: we caught up with Ben Roome at at800 to clear things up…

Sharing the spectrum

“One of the reasons the UK has switched from analogue to digital television was to make available some of the very valuable radio spectrum that analogue TV used in the UK for other things,” Ben says. “Analogue television, traditionally, has been broadcast on 470MHz up to 860MHz – that was a big swathe of radio spectrum carrying pretty much just analogue television services.”

 

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Ok, TV background knowledge sorted, but what does that have to do with our upcoming 4G network? Ben explains: “During the digital switchover, the top section of radio spectrum (between 790 and 860MHz) was cleared of TV channels, to be used by new mobile internet services such as 4G.”

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“The issue with doing that, though, is that some TV antennas and aerials can still see that whole big range of spectrum, even though the TV channels are now just in that lower three quarters of it. So when 4G at 800MHz comes, potentially some TV equipment will see the 4G signal, and if it’s a particularly strong signal it could disrupt digital TV.”

Ben says that if your TV is affected, the picture may be pixelated. “Essentially, some TV equipment might not be able to differentiate between what it should and shouldn’t see.” Don’t worry, though: it’s actually not as scary as it all sounds, and there it a solution at hand.

Quick fix

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“at800 has been set up by EE, Telefonica UK, Three and Vodafone, as a condition of the license to provide 4G at 800MHz,” says Ben. “We’ve been set up to solve the potential issue for viewers in the UK – to make sure they can still get the free-to-air TV that they’re entitled to as license fee payers. Our job is to restore free-to-air content to their primary TV set, so that there’s no cost to the people at home.”

How, exactly? Well, the answer’s simple, but it’s not a blanket approach, since a huge majority of us won’t ever see anything of the problem.

“This is only a problem if you receive television through an aerial, so anyone with satellite and cable subscriptions won’t be affected,” Ben says.

“We have various stages of help and support. An important part of what we do initially is awareness-raising – letting people know we exist. As we go live – and we’re running tests at the moment – operators send us information of where the mobile masts are from which they want to provide 4G.

“We have various stages of help and support. An important part of what we do initially is awareness-raising.”

“We then use a computer model to look at what TV signal is like in that area, and predict where there is the potential for 4G to cause problems. This is something we’re tuning during the tests we’re running.”

The next step is to get in contact with those affected: “No later than four weeks before a mast is switched on, we have to communicate to people in the area, and make sure that they aware we exist.

“And that if they see a problem they can contact us. That’s where our support begins.

“Then, if they’re affected, we may be asked to send a filter – a small passive device – which fits between the aerial and the television, and does the job of blocking out 4G at 800MHz signals. Or if you have a signal booster in the loft or on your mast, you need the filter to be fitted between the aerial and the booster.”

That filter will arrive free of charge, and it’s incredibly easy to fit – just pop it in between the aerial and your TV. Still, if you need some help, there’s more at hand: “Beyond that,” Ben adds, “we can send out aerial engineers to look at why a particular house is having a problem, and look to fix that.”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

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Of course, there’s only a need for a filter if you’re in a problem zone, and there’s a good chance you’re not. If everything goes to plan, you won’t ever need to hear from at800, and that’s exactly the way Ben would like it:

“The estimate of the potential numbers of households who could be affected are up to 900,000 with Freeview as a primary television service,” says Ben. That’s out of over 20 million UK households in total. “But we’ve seen fewer cases than forecast in our testing so far, so we’re optimistic that this trend will continue.”

 

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“What people can be confident in,” Ben says in closing, “is that we will be in touch of people if there’s any chance of them being affected. They don’t need to be concerned about this, or take steps to address it, if they’ve not heard from us directly.”

In other words, if you hear from Ben’s team you’re going to get the problem fixed for you. If you don’t then you’ve nothing to worry about: just keep calm and carry on watching.

Seeing things clearly now? For more information, head over to at800.tv.