Plans on track for testing of free digital TV service


19 Jan 2006

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Testing of free digital terrestrial television (DTT) in Ireland is on course to begin later this year with news that the latest round of tenders to supply equipment for a pilot trial has now closed and the bids are currently being evaluated.

The latest in a series of tenders covers supply, installation and maintenance of transmission equipment needed to run the trial, which is being financed by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The closing date for tenders was 10 January. Evaluations are ongoing with an announcement due soon, a department spokesman has told siliconrepublic.com.

The test will explore the potential for DTT services in Ireland. The test infrastructure being put in place will provide a basis for technical testing and spectrum planning, as well as holding demos of broadcast channels and services.

Initial DTT broadcasts will transmit from the Three Rock site in Dublin and another site at Clermont Carn in County Louth. There is provision to add other sites over the course of the trial. No start date has been confirmed although the pilot is scheduled to begin by the middle of this year and will last for around 24 months.

A future DTT service would offer nationally broadcast programming free in digital format, which would offer better picture and sound quality as well as interactive features.

Although other European countries have been far more aggressive in moving over to digital TV, the Irish Government has yet to commit to a switch-off date for the analogue TV signal. Such a move is recommended by the European Commission, with a suggested date of 2012, but this is not compulsory.

It is believed that the Government may have to announce a date by the middle of this year, to meet the deadline of the Regional Radio Conference 2006 event, to be held in June, which governs radio spectrum agreements. Moving off the analogue signal would free up certain frequencies of radio spectrum that could then be used for other services such as digital audio broadcasting or even wireless networking.

Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD has spoken of the importance of moving free-to-air broadcasts from an analogue terrestrial basis to DTT over time. Until now, digital TV’s progress in Ireland has mostly been driven by commercial interests. Industry sources believe that much of the impetus came from Sky’s decision in 2001 to stop broadcasting its premium sports and movies services via analogue, effectively requiring subscribers to upgrade to digital if they wanted to continue receiving these services. It’s estimated that around 40pc of homes in Ireland now pay for digital TV services.

By Gordon Smith