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
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
"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
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
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."