Mobile DTV: It's Official


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 approved the ATSC Mobile DTV Standard.

“This is a historic day, and not just in the 26-year history of ATSC but for the entire broadcast industry,” said ATSC President Mark Richer.

The formal approval of the standard, which has been circulating in preliminary form since November, should pave the way for mobile DTV receivers to hit retail shelves next year. A full range of consumer products is expected to be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

Large manufacturers including LG, Samsung and Dell have already developed prototype devices, including cellphones, personal TVs and netbooks. Specialist firms like Pixtree plan to sell USB dongle receivers that can turn any laptop into a mobile DTV.

Development of the standard officially began at the ATSC in May 2007, and in terms of standard-setting work, it has progressed at record pace. The Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a group of roughly 800 local stations, 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 the 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, which already face competition in the mobile TV space from subscription services such as Qualcomm's FLO TV, want to get a jump on those new entrants' video initiatives. From a policy perspective, it also doesn't hurt broadcasters to show an innovative use of their DTV channels at a time when the FCC is seeking to reallocate additional spectrum to support mobile broadband services.

FCC officials and press attended a demonstration of mobile DTV on Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C., riding an ATSC-branded bus and watching live mobile DTV broadcasts on a variety of prototype receivers. The mobile DTV signals were supplied by seven stations that are participating in an OMVC testbed to gauge reception performance and get consumer feedback.

The business model for mobile DTV remains unclear, and station groups have yet to reach agreements with wireless carriers to deploy mobile DTV chips in their handsets. But broadcast executives attending the Washington demonstration see it as a vital component of their digital TV service going forward.

“It is a very important piece of it,” said Gannett Broadcasting President Dave Lougee. “And it is a tremendous opportunity for us in the sense that we have already made the significant investment [in digital TV]. I think it is a sweet spot for all the different potential players in the ecosystem—the consumer, the wireless carriers and the programmers.”