Digital terrestrial television launched on trial basis


THE SWITCH-OFF of analogue television moved one stage closer yesterday as digitial terrestrial television (DTT) was officially launched on a trial basis.

Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan said RTÉ’s DTT service was available to 90 per cent of the population as of yesterday, via 24 transmission sites around the State.

More than one million viewers currently use analogue television services in their homes, but the European Union has ruled that all such signals must be switched off by the end of 2012. Analogue viewers have until this time to purchase either a set-top box or a set with Integrated Digital Television (iDTV) in order to continue viewing the free-to-air channels RTÉ One, RTÉ Two, TV3 and TG4.

These four channels are now available on DTT under the trial service, which is designed to test the engineering integrity of the systems. The Department of Communications said more television and radio channels would be added to the line-up as part of the national consumer launch of RTÉ’s free-to-air DTT service, named Saorview, next spring.

RTÉ NL, the division of RTÉ responsible for Saorview, said preparations for the full launch were well under way. The broadcaster has invested €40 million in Saorview and it will commit a total of €70 million to the service.

According to its website, just two receivers, both manufactured by the Dublin company Walker Technology Products, have so far been approved as Saorview-compliant. Set-top boxes will cost “approximately €100”, according to the department. Other set-top boxes and iDTVs are currently going through the testing process, it said.

Under the current analogue system, TG4 is available to about 95 per cent of the population and TV3 to 85 per cent of the population. By the end of 2012, all free-to-air channels will be available on Saorview to 98 per cent of the population.

“This will be a significant improvement in free-to-air television coverage in Ireland,” the department said.

The switch-off of the analogue signal releases valuable chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be used for wireless broadband and new mobile services.

The Department of Communications estimates that freeing up the spectrum for this use will be worth €500 million to the economy.

“Saor” means “free” in Irish. The equivalent free-to-air DTT service in the UK, launched in 2002, is called Freeview.