Station groups representing nearly 400 U.S. 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 next-generation broadcast TV service designed to allow local stations to more effectively warn viewers in emergencies, provide broadcasts that are richer in quality, and develop new services for an IP-based continental wireless broadcast network.
The ATSC 3.0 Implementation and Planning Guide was developed to provide broadcasters with detailed information for use by station management and broadcast engineers to move from ATSC 1.0 technology — approved nearly two decades ago — and what is presently under consideration at the Federal Communications Commission. The guide also provides guidance when planning for channel changes that could result from the FCC Spectrum Repack Program.
Organizations 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,” said Anne Schelle, Managing Director of Pearl TV, whose membership represents more than 200 local broadcast stations. “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, personalized and geotargeted viewing, mobile viewing, more information about emergency alerts, and the seamless integration of broadcasting programming with other Internet Protocol (IP) services.”
Rich Redmond, chief product officer of broadcast equipment supplier GatesAir, noted that the guide was developed over the course of the last several months “to help the industry prepare for a monumental update.”
He said, “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.”
The Implementation and Transition Guide is available on the GatesAir website.
Peter Starke, VP/Broadcast for American Tower, added, “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.”
Starke said that 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,” he said.
Stations transitioning to new channels (and ultimately to ATSC 3.0) during the post-auction FCC Spectrum Repack Program “can realize significant savings” when buying equipment and services to facilitate the channel change, the guide states. “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 investments. 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 polarization (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 customized 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 tradeoffs – depending upon how a system is customized. 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,” the guide says.