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Industry releases ATSC 3.0 planning guide

Station groups representing nearly 400 US TV broadcasters and a host of broadcasting equipment and service suppliers are releasing a comprehensive planning guide for a transition to ATSC 3.0, the broadcast TV service that will allow local stations to warn viewers in emergencies more effectively, provide higher quality broadcasts, and develop new services for an IP-based wireless broadcast network that extends from coast-to-coast.
This ATSC 3.0 Implementation and Planning Guide was developed to provide broadcasters with detailed ATSC 3.0 information for use by station management and broadcast engineers to move from ATSC 1.0 technology (approved nearly 20 years ago) and ATSC 3.0 (now under consideration at the Federal Communications Commission), while also planning for channel changes that could result from the FCC Spectrum Repack Programme.

Organisations participating in the creation of the ATSC 3.0 Planning & Implementation include:  American Tower; Dielectric; Ericsson; GatesAir; Harmonic; Hitach Kokusai Electric Comark; Meintel, Sgignoli, & Wallace;  Pearl TV;  Sinclair Broadcast Group; and Triveni Digital.

“ATSC 3.0 is rounding third base and heading into the home stretch.  It’s time for managers, engineers, and planners at all levels to look ahead and get ready for the requirements.  ATSC 3.0 is the ‘glue’ that will enable broadcast protocol to exist in an Internet environment, which means better pictures and sound, personalised and geo-targeted viewing, mobile viewing, more information about emergency alerts, and the seamless integration of broadcasting programming with other Internet Protocol services,” said Anne Schelle, Managing Director of Pearl TV, whose membership represents more than 200 local broadcast stations.

“This guide was developed over the course of the last several months to help the industry prepare for a monumental update.  With the approval of the ATSC 3.0 Physical Layer as a finished standard a few weeks ago, work continues on the final ingredients that will comprise the multi-layer ATSC 3.0 technology.  Our industry is finishing the standard now, but now is also the time to start planning,” said Rich Redmond, chief product officer of broadcast equipment supplier GatesAir.  “The Implementation and Transition Guide is available on the GatesAir website and will be a living document that will evolve as additional elements of the standard are completed.”

“Without question, proper planning is required to meet the expectations of both the Spectrum Repack and the enhancements needed to transmit ATSC 3.0.  That’s why we supported this effort to develop a planning guide for the transition.  It’s never been more important to carefully consider your options and investments,” said Peter Starke, Vice President of Broadcast for American Tower.  “Broadcasters will also have the option to build Single Frequency Networks (SFNs), which can extend or improve existing coverage, particularly for indoor and mobile device reception.  But such changes require broadcasters to plan ahead.”

An Evolving Landscape

Television service continues to evolve as content distributors – from traditional cable operators to internet-delivered services – utilize the latest technologies to reach viewers and offer a wide variety of program choices.

New receiving devices are easily connected to the Internet, which relies on the language of Internet Protocol (IP) to transport content. Now terrestrial broadcasters are preparing both for the adoption of an IP-ready next-generation digital TV (DTV) standard and a realignment of the U.S. TV spectrum.

Viewers are already buying high-quality displays that respond to 4K Ultra HDTV signals and High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities. Immersive and personalised audio is also emerging, with the ability to enhance the quality and variety of audio.

Making the Right Decisions

Stations transitioning to new channels (and ultimately to ATSC 3.0) during the post-auction FCC Spectrum Repack Programme can realise significant savings when buying equipment and services to facilitate the channel change. Broadcasters should identify any potential redundancies for tower work or equipment with a future ATSC 3.0 adoption.

According to the report, this effort can reduce capital requirements in a number of ways, advising:

  • Making the right choice of transmitter, RF system and antenna components that will support a future move to ATSC 3.0, even if this means that stations must make an additional investment.  Purchasing the components that will support stations‘ future ATSC 3.0 plans can greatly reduce expenses during an ATSC 3.0 transition.
  • If a new antenna system must be purchased for a channel change, make sure that the antenna conforms to the RF requirements for ATSC 3.0 adoption. If mobile services are in the station‘s future, adding vertical polarisation (Vpol) should be considered.
  • If a new transmitter will be required for a channel change, broadcasters should evaluate and pick products that are software-upgradable to ATSC 3.0, and have the ability to easily add additional amplification to support the peak power requirements related to Vpol for ATSC 3.0.
  • Eventual installation of ATSC 3.0 equipment could mean changes to tower and tower site infrastructure. If broadcasters incorporate ATSC 3.0 into tower structural engineering studies, tower modifications, and transmitter, RF system and antenna installations during the Spectrum Auction Repack, they will pay only once for potentially expensive and time-consuming work.

The guide also lists what to consider when planning for the adoption of ATSC 3.0.  Although the move to ATSC 3.0 won’t necessarily require a wholesale change of equipment and infrastructure, some changes must occur.

“Keep in mind most new equipment will be more versatile and economically expandable through software updates, thus potentially extending equipment life. Also, the IP-based system can be easily customised and modified for all types of IP-based services, and these modifications can occur so that consumer receivers will not be rendered obsolete.  Many business and technical realities have changed since the ATSC 1.0 digital standard was created. The next-generation platform delivers more flexibility, capabilities, and trade-offs – depending upon how a system is customised. With that comes a multifaceted system that will require more business and technical planning. Understanding which combination of ATSC 3.0 services to employ and the subsequent trade-offs between robustness and bandwidth is the first step in planning a system,” says the new Implementation and Planning Guide.

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