Can ATSC 3.0 solve OTA
broadcasters’ mobile problem
The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), the group that regulates over-the-air, cable and satellite digital TV broadcasts in the U.S., is moving forward with its deployment of a third revision of its transmission standards that will include support for 4K UHD, high dynamic range (HDR), high-frame rates (HFR), and wide color gamut.
However, ATSC 3.0, as it is referred to, is being touted as a “mobile-first standard” that will work simultaneously with IP-based streaming. Its other major feature, conditional access, will let viewers to access OTT subscriptions such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video through over-the-air (OTA) 6MHz transmissions rather than having to use their data plans. For OTA broadcasters looking for a way to compete in today’s fragmented mobile-centric world, this new wireless transmission standard, with its improve compression technology, couldlead to a dramatic increase in the capacity to deliver mobile video content over the new fewyears. The second focus for broadcasters will be on generating mobile advertising revenue through more efficient business models that target younger audiences and millennials.
Of course to get to the results they crave, broadcasters need to build out the physical infrastructure that will leverage new 5G technologies. That means deploying single-frequency networks (SFNs) around designated market areas (DMAs) and getting compatible receiver products out into the market. The ATSC 3.0 standard is not backwardscompatible with anything that came before it, so it will require consumers to buy new TV sets or install receiver chips (or external dongles) in their TV sets and mobile devices. It will also require TV broadcasters to spend lots of money to get it off the ground. To date, some but not every station sees the benefit and this reluctance could prove a challenge to the standard’s future success.
Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest and most diversified television broadcasting companies in the U.S., has been a strong proponent of SFNs and mobile broadcasting for many years and is leading the way to ATSC 3.0 and mobile broadcasting. The company has formed asubsidiary called ONE Media LLC to handle the various machinations of designing these specialized etworks and then supporting others who will build them. SFNs are necessary to reach mobile devices wherever they may be, in a car, on foot or in a consumers’ home. Without them, mobile coverage comparable to what AT&T and Verizon offers now is virtually impossible. For example, as a car moves from one DMA to the next, the corresponding SFN has to recognize that moving receiver and lock onto it. (It’s kind of how roving cellular transmission works.)
To this end, the first commercially available SFN will launch in March in the Dallas-Fort Worth DMA. The experimental SFN—a collaboration of American Tower, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Local Media, Nexstar and Spectrum Co.—has received approval to operate from the Federal Communications Commission, but the government agency that oversee broadcasting in the U.S. is not mandating that licensed stations do it.
The mobile-friendly network consists of four existing sites located around the Dallas-Fort Worth market in both metro and suburban sites to maximize signal strength across the coverage area. The technical key has been to synchronize the four SFN towers so that they work as a closed system. This includes fine-tuning the network components, such as antennas, transmitters, and radios for optimum signal delivery.
The towers, electrical power, fiber network and transmitter buildings at sites in Fort Worth, Denton and Garland, Texas, were upgraded to meet the ATSC 3.0 spec. A pre-fab building was added in Garland, and a point-to-point microwave link between the Denton and Fort Worth sites was also installed, American Tower said.
The construction and design work included upgrades to networking, Internet exchange, fiber and data center connectivity as well as threephase power. Comark transmitters and ATSC 3.0 exciters also were added at each site. The main transmission tower site in Cedar Hill, Texas—currently the main ATSC 1.0 transmission site—also received an upgrade of ATSC 3.0 transmissionequipment, rounding out the four-site SFN.
If it works, and initial testing has been positive, the SFN design will be repeated in other DMAs across the U.S. To be sure, comprehensive mobile video service from OTA broadcasters will only work if major areas of the country are accommodated.
The second part of the mobile video delivery chain is the receiver chip and Sinclair’s One Media is also working on this. At the 2019 CES Show in January, Sinclair debuted a system-ona- chip (SoC) design that supports the new ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard Sinclair said it is working with its India-based technology partner, Saankhya Labs, as well as VeriSilicon and Samsung Foundry, to produce the multi-standard demodulator SoC.
The hardware is based on Saankhya’s patented Software Defined Radio platform and supports 12 DTV standards including ATSC 3.0, DVB-T2, ISDB-T, and satellite and cable standards for TV, set-top boxes, home gateways as well for automotive and mobile applications. Sinclair has said it would fund millions of chipset giveaways for wireless operators in an effort to support thenationwide rollout of the so-called “Next-Gen”
TV standard. This rollout is expected to start on a wider scale in 2020.
So, will it work and allow OTA broadcasters to compete with established mobile video providers? That remains to be seen (literally) on a handheld device moving around a DMA. Sinclair and otherengineers working o the spec have certainly given broadcasters the tools they need. OTA throughput is expected to become about 30 percent more efficient than its predecessor transmission standard, moving from 19.3Mbps up to 25Mbps on a 6MHz channel. The new ATSC 3.0 standard offerssupport H.265 / HEVC codecs, 22.2-channel audio and additional codecs from Dolby, DTS and the MPEG-H audio alliance.
At the end of the day, broadcasters from all of the competing networks will have to collaborate and even share spectrum to make mobile video deliver work. To date, some networks (NBC and Fox) are on board with the new stand while others (ABCand CBS) are not. The later have said the cost to deploy the standard outweighs any resulting gain, since they already have ownership interests in cable TV (and IP) delivery.
Clearly, the new standard is offers significantly improved mobile reception capability compared to ATSC 1.0 A/153 Mobile DTV and equal or better coverage versus the original ATSC 1.0 A/53 digital TV standard. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guesswhether consumers will embrace it, much less the entire industry itself.