The NBN TV reception fix

The NBN may not provide access to free-to-air (FtA) programming but the network could end up changing the TV landscape in Australia for good.

Will the NBN solve my poor TV reception? This happens to be one of the frequently asked questions by visitors to the NBN bus which is travelling across the country. NBN Co’s answer to the question is a ‘no’ because the network won’t provide access to free-to-air (FtA) programming. However, the NBN could fix your TV problems and here’s why.

When the NBN was in its early design stages, it was asked whether NBN Co should add the so-called RF-layer to its architecture, which would enable delivery of FtA signals over the fibre network. The extra cost involved would have been around $100 to $150 per connection.Interestingly, from a consumer perspective the answer was ‘yes – let’s have that extra facility, but the FtA lobby was against it and they eventually won out.  The RF-layer was not included and there will be no FtA over the NBN.

At that stage we were somewhat ambivalent on the issue. We understood the consumer sentiment but, at the same time, saw it as a bit of a waste of money, since the far superior infrastructure of the NBN would eventually result in significant changes to customer behaviour in relation to video-based entertainment content, and that would make FtA less relevant.

Since then we are watching the arrival and the early success of smart TVs, which further highlights the move away from the traditional way of broadcasting to a whole new TV experience, based on customer choice and innovative new ways to have access to video-based entertainment.

Smart TVs can be connected to the NBN (and to any high-speed broadband network for that matter) and those video services can be received completely independently of the FtA services.

So those people who have poor TV signals could be among the first to buy smart TVs – and as long as they have a reasonable broadband quality they could profit from better video-based entertainment delivered to their smartTVs and further penetration of the NBN will only make the viewer experience better as it will deliver the quality needed for HDTV and other high-quality-based TV services.

So, while the broadcasting industry thought that by stopping the RF-layer over the NBN they could protect their business, it now looks as though their rejection will hasten the move away from FtA to new ways of accessing content.Things are only going to get more interesting later this year, when Apple and Google are expected to announce further plans around smart TVs.

Paul Budde is the managing director of BuddeComm, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy company, which includes 45 national and international researchers in 15 countries.