Mobilizing for Mobile DTV

Broadcasters, wireless carriers eye new technologies that will break limits

Complete Coverage: NAB 2012

The NAB show saw several key announcements
by broadcasters planning
to roll out mobile DTV broadcasts, along
with some debate over the future of those efforts.

Early in the show, the Mobile Content Venture
announced that 17 additional television stations
will launch mobile DTV, bringing the current total
to 92, covering more than 55% of U.S. homes.

In an important evolutionary step, the additions
include some CBS
owned-and-operated stations
(CBS O&Os previously had
not participated in the effort)
and LIN Media. Three new
markets—Austin, Boston
and Dayton, Ohio—were
also added to the growing
list of areas where the service
will be launched.

Meanwhile, the Mobile500
Alliance added four new
public stations as members
and announced that one of
the CBS owned-and-operated
stations, CW affiliate
KSTW in Seattle, will join
the effort.

The Mobile500 is planning
a test of its mobile DTV service this
summer in Seattle on Fisher Communications’
KOMO, and in the Minneapolis-St.
Paul market on Hubbard Broadcasting’s KSTP.
Additional channels could follow as early as
the fall for the services, which will broadcast
live TV and include on-demand content, DVR
capabilities and interactive ads.

“When you look at the over 34 million tablets
sold in 2011 and start thinking about how
fast that usage is growing, it becomes a very
exciting proposition for broadcasters,” said
Colleen Brown, president and CEO of Fisher
Communications and chair of the Mobile500
Alliance board of directors.

But the NAB Show also saw some debate
over the best technologies for mobile video
delivery, along with various attendant problems
facing broadcasters.

During the “Mobile Video and Mobile TV—
Beyond YouTube” session, one of the key issues
involved getting devices into the market
that are capable of receiving the signals. Peter
Siebert, executive director of the DVB Project
Office in Europe, stressed the importance of
devices by noting that the DVB-H standard
for mobile broadcasts had failed to take off in
Europe because of the lack of devices in the
market. The providers of mobile broadcasts
“weren’t willing to subsidize the devices, so
there were no devices,” Siebert said.

So far, U.S. groups have had only limited
success in getting manufacturers to develop
smartphones or tablets with mobile DTV chips
included in the devices. As a result, both MCV
and the Mobile500 have worked with outside
manufacturers to offer accessories that can be
attached to existing iPads or smartphones for
reception. These will be coming into the market,
but they require an additional purchase,
which could slow adoption.

In contrast, providers of traditional cell services
don’t face this problem with devices. Their big
issue is the lack of capacity for the growing use
of video, and the fact that traditional cellular networks
will collapse under use that is too heavy.

Peggy Johnson, executive VP and president,
global market development at Qualcomm, addressed
this problem during the NAB session.
Johnson noted that Qualcomm actually chose
to use a broadcast architecture for mobile video
for the failed FLO TV service because it was
more efficient than unicast.

Since shutting down the service, however,
Qualcomm has been working on developing
LTE broadcast technologies that would
provide a flexible alternative to some of the
well-known capacity issues of current unicast
cellular networks.

This technology would
mean operators could
switch part of their LTE network
to broadcasts during
a period when many people
are accessing the same
content—something that
usually crashes a cellular
network—and then switch
back to unicast when the
demand declines.

Johnson feels that this
approach, and other newer
cellular technologies,
gives carriers the flexibility
to handle the well-known
bandwidth crunch facing
mobile operators.

Because this strengthens the position of existing
carriers as providers of video services, Mark
Aitken, VP of advanced technology at Sinclair
Broadcast Group, quipped during a panel following
Johnson’s talk that her “presentation
should have scared the pants off of broadcasters.”

While Aitken stressed the importance of
launching mobile DTV services using the ATSC
M/H standard, he added that in the long run,
broadcasters will need to move to a standard
that is compatible with LTE or 4G services.

“If we had a standard that was an extension
of LTE, we could be broadcasting over LTE with
an extended chip set,” Aitken said. This would
avoid the problem of getting new devices into
the market.

E-mail comments to and follow him
on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow