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NYPD wireless alert on bomb suspect ‘tip of iceberg’ of what’s possible with AWARN

The New York Police Department’s unprecedented use Monday of a 90-character Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) to help catch suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami in connection with the weekend’s New York and New Jersey bombings typified how “new technology can be utilized to improve public alerting,” said John Lawson, executive director of the AWARN Alliance, in a Wednesday statement.
But as well-publicized as the Rahami WEA was, WEA is the tip of the iceberg compared with what’s possible under ATSC 3.0-based Advanced Warning and Response Network alerts because “wireless carriers have balked at including photos and active links to the Internet because of bandwidth constraints,” Lawson said. FCC members are tentatively scheduled to vote Sept. 29 on a WEA order and Further NPRM (see 1609080083).

ATSC 3.0-enabled AWARN “will give consumers not only text,” as NYPD’s WEA did, but also “photos, video, maps, and links for notifying authorities,” Lawson said. AWARN is designed to reach smart TVs, tablets and future smartphones “independently of the cellular networks,” he said. “AWARN will give consumers a whole new level of information at their fingertips. In a situation like the recent bombings, AWARN will deliver not only text, but also the photo of the suspect, surveillance video, evacuation routes, hospital wait times, and many other forms of rich-media content.” AWARN is “a major upgrade to alert­ing, but we need the FCC to give us their permission to use the underlying technology,” Lawson said. The AWARN Alliance joined with America’s Public TV Stations, CTA and NAB to petition the FCC to rapidly approve the voluntary use of the ATSC 3.0 broadcast transmission system (see 1604130065).

Future smartphones will need an ATSC 3.0 receiver chip to enable AWARN alerts and other ATSC 3.0 services, Lawson emailed us Wednesday when asked whether AWARN could face the same challenges getting wireless carriers to activate ATSC 3.0 smartphone functionality as the NextRadio app endured with landing carrier acceptance of smartphone FM reception (see 1607080024). “Unlike with Mobile DTV a few years ago, mobile is a ‘native’ capability of ATSC 3.0,” he said. ATSC 3.0-based Next Generation TV “is IP-based and designed for seamless integration with LTE,” he said. “It could be economical for the manu­facturers to stamp the 3.0 receive chip along with the 5G chip when they start making them.”

The AWARN Alliance “is not asking for any kind of tuner mandate,” Lawson said. “Advanced alerting is one area where the carriers and broadcasters might actually want to work together.” The FCC in its rulemakings about improving emergency alerting and WEA “clearly is looking to the carriers to deliv­er more characters, URL’s, multilingual alerts, and rich-media,” he said. “In their filings, the carriers push back because their architecture is not designed for simultaneous mass distribution of that kind of data.”

Broadcasters, on the other hand, “have one-to-many architecture, and pushing out rich-media to millions of devices simultaneously is what they do all the time,” Lawson said. With the emergency-alerting receiver wake-up function possible under ATSC 3.0-based AWARN, “smartphones could be configured to only receive the broadcaster alerts,” he said. “It seems that business could be done here.”

At CTIA, “as we saw earlier this week, Wireless Emergency Alerts are notifying people about situa­tions on their mobile devices wherever and whenever, which is exactly as they were designed to do,” Brian Josef, assistant vice president-regulatory affairs, emailed us Wednesday. “This is another great example of the marketplace, not government mandates, helping to keep people safe via mobile devices, which are the vast majority of Americans’ preferred communication devices.” — Paul Gluckman

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