Bubbling beneath all the noise and hype around 5G is a segment that gets little notice – the advanced television systems committee (ATSC) 3.0 standard. This is the next generation of over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting. ATSC 3.0 is going to be a massive overhaul for antenna-based TV. It is the latest version of the standards, defining how exactly television signals are broadcast and interpreted. ATSC 3.0 makes use of OTA signals and in-home broadband to deliver an experience closer to cable or satellite.
ATSC standards offer improvement such as 4K (and, eventually 8K) ultra-high definition broadcasting, high dynamic range (HDR) content, wide color gamut and high frame rate. It also up’s the ante for audio, using Dolby AC-4 instead of AC-3. This enables broadcasts of up to 7.1.4 channel audio to support object-based sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
But here is the wireless tie-in. ATSC 3.0 makes it possible to watch broadcast video on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. It also supports in-car video. As well, advanced emergency alerts are part of the standard, including better geo-targeting. That means advancements like the ability to broadcast evacuation routes to the areas that need that information.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how one sees technological advancement) ATSC 3.0 is not backward compatible with earlier versions (ATSC 1.0 and the never made it version, ATSC 2.0). However, the lack of backward compatibility is a step in the right direction. Current OTA 1.0 TV is old and antiquated. Sometimes one just has to cut the cord in order to take full advantage of what is possible with the latest generation. And compatibility simply becomes collateral damage.
What got me talking about this is that, recently, One Media (a think tank owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group) took the ATSC 3.0 case to the FCC. Their position is that it can deliver data services outside of television. Interesting…seems point to multipoint is looking for new opportunities.
One Media’s argument is that it can offer “a new, combined broadcast and broadband, cloud-native network system architecture for television and non-television services on new device types. The company said the system would be built using the ATSC 3.0 physical layer and virtualized, shared IP core.” I tend to agree. I believe this to be a step in the right direction.
As well, ATSC 3.0 can play in segments, such as autonomous vehicles, by offering a wider RF platform for data distribution. The same point was made for the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX) devices. Further opportunities include wearable, telemedicine and smart “X”. However, how this new broadcast platform will interface with all of this is still a bit unclear.
One of the biggest attractions of this next generation OTA broadcasting is advanced geo-tracking, which translates to geo-targeting and becomes a key tool for target marketing. If you think televisions and wireless devices have your number, just wait until ASTC 3.0 hits the pavement (2020 is targeted for a massive rollout, but it is likely that is an arbitrary year. Just like 5G, it will appear in slices and well beyond 2020 for widespread commonality).
Perhaps the most promising aspect is the realignment of broadcast spectrum to offer more space for data services. Using a technique called “bit pooling” Bit pooling takes broadcast spectrum and “slices” it up for digitization. This not only improves throughput but frees up some bits for sale. These bits can be offered to ancillary services such as driverless cars, last mile applications and other OTA services (home security, IoX, smart “x”).
However, do not get too excited, yet. The standard was just adopted and there will be lots of tweaks before it hits the street. A good bet as to when it will go mainstream is when 4K is the norm.
The great thing about this is that for us cord cutters, it breathes new life into OTA TV. It will integrate Wi-Fi as well as Ethernet. It will offer a much more personalized experience such as customized weather alerts, interest-specific news, and tailored content as well as video on demand.
As with much of what is emerging today, use cases are scarce. However, the potential here is significant. The infrastructure is in place, it is ubiquitous and it has the spectrum. In my opinion those are all strong selling point for developing these new use cases on the horizon.
In other words, it will give those annoying political ads the ability to really get personal. That I just can’t wait for!