Mobile DTV Standard Approved
ATSC formalizes broadcast standard, clears way for retail sales next year
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/16/2009 7:30:00 AM
Get complete mobile DTV coverage, including video demonstrations, at B&C's Mobile Video channel.
A fast-track effort by broadcasters, transmission vendors and consumer electronics manufacturers to create a technical standard for transmitting digital TV signals to cellphones and other mobile devices has come to fruition, with the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) announcing Oct. 16 that it has approved the ATSC Mobile DTV Standard.
ATSC said the mobile DTV standard--formally known as A/153 and also referred to as ATSC-Mobile/Handheld (ATSC-M/H)--received "overwhelming support" in balloting by its full membership tallied at midnight on Oct. 15. The formal approval of the standard, which has been circulating in preliminary form since last November, should pave the way for mobile DTV receivers to hit retail shelves next year.
Racing Toward a Standard
Development of the standard officially began in May 2007, when the ATSC released a request for proposals (RFP), and in terms of standard-setting work, it has progressed at record pace since then. Mobile DTV insiders give much of the credit to the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a group of roughly 800 local stations that has worked hand-in-hand with the ATSC to drive the process with the goal of having a working standard this year.
Part of the OMVC's motivation to get mobile DTV launched in 2009 was the turnoff of analog high-powered signals and reclaiming of that broadcast spectrum by the FCC, which has auctioned it off to telcos, satellite operators and others intent on launching new wireless services. Broadcasters, who already face competition in the mobile TV space from Qualcomm's FLO TV subscription-based service, want to get a jump on those new entrants' video plans.
"Development and adoption of the ATSC Mobile DTV Standard is a major milestone in the ongoing evolution of digital television," said ATSC President Mark Richer in a statement. "We have been fortunate to have strong and active industry support, including thousands of person-hours of technical volunteers, for this work which enabled us to develop the standard in an efficient manner."
Paul Karpowicz, NAB Television Board chairman and president of Meredith Broadcast Group, added, "This milestone ushers in the new era of digital television broadcasting, giving local TV stations and networks new opportunities to reach viewers on the go. This will introduce the power of local broadcasting to a new generation of viewers and provide all-important emergency alert, local news and other programming to consumers across the nation."
Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said the formalization of the standard "will help chipmakers and equipment manufacturers proceed with product development and deployment." Large CE manufacturers like LG and Dell have already shown prototype mobile DTV devices, including a small personal TV from LG and an ATSC-MH-enabled netbook from Dell, and specialist firms like Pixtree plan to sell USB dongle receivers that can turn any laptop into a mobile DTV. A full range of consumer products is expected to be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
In fact, some 30 stations are already broadcasting mobile DTV signals, ranging from large markets like Washington and Atlanta to smaller cities like Omaha, Neb. By year-end there should be about 50 mobile DTV broadcasters on-air, said Jay Adrick, VP of technology for Harris Broadcast, which co-developed the underlying transmission technology with LG and has supplied the lion's share of mobile DTV systems to date. Adrick expects that the OMVC should hit its previously stated goal of having 70 stations on-air with mobile DTV by early next year.
"I think the deployment in 2010 will see a significant ramp-up," said Adrick. "A lot of that will be driven by the fact that receivers will be available relatively early in 2010. It's been a chicken-and-egg situation, just like it was in [the early days of HDTV]. Broadcasters have not only been learning a lot, but they had to put something on-air to get the receiver people to come around."
Targeting Cell Phones
The initial concept of mobile DTV--broadcasting to cell phones--may still be some time off, as broadcasters have yet to reach any agreements with wireless carriers to include the technology in their handsets. OMVC Executive Director Anne Schelle says that carriers have initially expressed more interest in incorporating ATSC Mobile DTV into netbooks.
"They're looking at putting a TV tuner in a netbook to help offload high-bandwidth, low- revenue applications, like live video off the 3G network, and onto the broadcaster network," said Schelle. She added that the OMVC itself can't negotiate with carriers on behalf of broadcasters because of antitrust concerns, but she expects several large groups to band together to reach deals with carriers.
The OMVC--which last month released a document aimed at device manufacturers and details the potential use cases for mobile DTV--also sees potential for broadcasters using cellular or broadband networks to enable new interactive applications such as polling and voting.
"We can take advantage of a device that has a built-in backchannel and reach out and touch the audience, and create more of a social-media-type environment," says ION VP of Technology Brett Jenkins, who authored much of the use-case document.
From a policy perspective, mobile DTV services in the broadcast spectrum have potentially taken on new relevance in recent weeks, given the FCC's stated desire to find new spectrum to support wireless broadband services. In a statement Friday congratulating the coalition, National Association of Broadcasers Executive VP Dennis Wharton pointed to broadcasters' "innovative use of over-the-air spectrum," saying "all Americans will benefit." FCC officials, along with members of the press, will receive a demonstration of ATSC Mobile DTV technology in Washington, D.C., Oct. 16 in separate bus tours organized by the ATSC and the OMVC.
FCC officials will be able to see mobile DTV streams transmitted by seven local stations and received on consumer devices from LG that will include prototype GSM and CDMA handsets and a combination personal digital-TV receiver and portable DVD player. LG, which is now mass producing ATSC Mobile DTV receiver chips, plans to commercially launch the combination receiver/DVD player in 2010.
In a conversation days before the standard was approved, Richer said it was mere coincidence that the ATSC mobile DTV standard was wrapping up just a week after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski declared that he plans to reallocate spectrum for mobile broadband applications. But Richer was eager for the chairman and other commissioners to see the technology.
"We're just finishing the standard after years of hard work," said Richer. "But I guess it's timely. I believe there's a bright future for broadcasting, and this technology is one of the reasons."
It would probably be a bad idea to think that broadcasters will actually control this, or that the only way of provisioning such a service is via cell carriers. Things could happen quickly; implementing Mobile DTV is complicated compared to the current digital service, and facilities largely based on analog infrastructure will have a tough time of providing anything but the most rudimentary dynamic MDTV simulcast service in a short time frame. Remember that young people live with their handhelds.
John Willkie - 10/16/2009 12:44:59 PM EDT
'The initial concept of mobile DTV--broadcasting to cell phones--may still be some time off, as broadcasters have yet to reach any agreements with wireless carriers to include the technology in their handsets. OMVC Executive Director Anne Schelle says that carriers have initially expressed more interest in incorporating ATSC Mobile DTV into netbooks."
You can say that again everyone hold bandwidth for cell better think twice it going be awhile and then you have find a model.
Chip Harwood - 10/16/2009 9:46:16 AM EDT
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