ATSC 3.0: ‘A New Broadband Pipe’

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LAS VEGAS — “This is an exciting and transformative time for broadcasters,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a formal 2019 NAB Show address that served as the centerpiece of a major session on the roll-out of next-gen broadcast TV — ATSC 3.0.


For Carr, one of the biggest reasons for this excitement is the promise ATSC 3.0 brings for many players.

In an address delivered with NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith seated to his right, Carr joked that ATSC 3.0 “does not exactly roll off the tongue.”

And, he added, “We can probably rest assured that no one burned through their scarce marketing dollars when they came up with the term.”

But, Carr stressed that ATSC 3.0 “is actually a pretty exciting technology that can bring new and creative services to market. So I think it’s great that we’re focusing on it at this event.”

In Carr’s view, ATSC 3.0 is part of a broader shift we’re seeing towards next-generation connectivity—one that is going to usher in a new wave of innovation and opportunity for Americans. “You see it on the wireless side with the buildout of 5G networks,” he said. “You see it a couple hundred miles above us with a new generation of low-earth orbit satellites ready to launch. And you see it across the country as fixed broadband providers upgrade and extend their networks to support new use cases.”

Up to now, a lot of the buzz around ATSC 3.0 has been tied to the promise of Next-Gen TV.

“Looking around the show floor today, you can certainly see why,” Carr remarked. “This new standard will bring 4K and Ultra HD video to the airwaves. It will enable broadcast TV signals to be delivered right to your smartphone or tablet. And it will usher in a more interactive, accessible, and personalized experience for the viewing public.

“And these new features aren’t just exciting for their entertainment value,” he continued. “They also have the potential to vastly improve public safety—whether it’s geo-targeted and encrypted information sent directly to first responders, or multimedia AMBER alerts to provide the public with more accurate and complete information during times of crisis.”

At the 2018 NAB Show, Carr spoke about the importance of broadcasting during emergencies, and why the FCC must continue to remove “needless regulations that divert resources away from what broadcasters do best—serving their communities.”

That’s also why it’s so important, he said Monday, that the FCC-authorized broadcasters start experimenting with ATSC 3.0, giving them the freedom to innovate.

When Carr thinks about the ways that broadcasters can use that freedom to innovate, one use case stands out for Carr: ATSC 3.0 as a “new and competitive broadband pipe.”

He said, “The technology has the potential deliver a 25 Mbps data stream to Americans all over the U.S. As an IP-based standard, ATSC 3.0 will enable broadcasters to leverage the same protocols that we use today in our broadband networks. And there’s interesting work ongoing to solve for the return path, where that type of communication is needed.”

While Carr believes it is hard to predict all of the consumer applications or business cases that could benefit from this new broadband pipe, there’s already buzz around a few.

“Take autonomous vehicles, where ATSC 3.0 could play a pivotal role,” he said. “It could send out targeted map and traffic data or provide large, fleet-wide software updates. For IoT, smart ag, and telemedicine applications, ATSC 3.0’s low-band spectrum could provide an efficient means of communicating with devices over wide areas. For 5G, it could help augment coverage or add capacity by shifting data off of cellular networks. And for consumers, it could present a new choice for downloading data, including movies or applications right to your device. As we look to push more and more data to the edge of the network, ATSC 3.0 could provide one way of moving all that data in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

In fact, a PBS affiliate in Lansing, Mich., applied for an experimental license to use ATSC 3.0 and is researching ways to use the signal to provide rich media content to households that currently don’t have a broadband connection. They’re also integrating ATSC 3.0 with Michigan State University’s IoT research, including automotive applications and exploring use cases from education to telemedicine to smart cities.

As with most transformative shifts, the possibilities of this one-to-many broadband pipe are difficult to predict today. But what is clear to Carr is this: “Broadcasters are already exploring innovative new applications that are well outside their traditional comfort zone of delivering over-the-air television,” he said. “I am glad that this FCC has been working to remove the outdated regulations that only made it harder for broadcasters to compete in today’s market.”

— Additional reporting and editing by Adam R Jacobson, in Miami