American Tower is playing a role in the next generation of TV broadcasting technology that may lead to lucrative uses for the towers it owns that already serve mobile communications network operators, such as AT&T Mobility, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US, along with some towers that serve TV broadcast stations. With TV stations having not long ago completed a compulsory transition from analog to digital broadcasting, they next may participate in a voluntary program to add another form of digital broadcasting. Called ATSC 3.0, the technology uses a single-frequency network of multiple transmitter sites in a given market — which is where American Tower comes in.
Digital TV transmitters in a single-frequency network may emit as much as 100 kilowatts of power, much higher than the 100 watts of power that many cellular transmitters on towers emit. Adding sufficient three-phase AC power and adequate shelter space for TV transmitting equipment at cell sites makes the use of many typical cell sites problematic without major changes. To serve the Dallas-Fort Worth TV market, American Tower built what its newsletter, BroadcastBuzz, says is the first market-wide network of four towers for testing the new digital broadcasting technology.
Plans announced earlier for the project stated that the testing would air programming from KXTD-TV, owned by Cunningham Communications, and KSTR-DT, owned by UniMás.
American Tower upgraded electrical power, fiber-optic cable connectivity and transmitter buildings at three cell towers in Fort Worth, Denton and Garland, Texas. The fourth location in Cedar Hills, Texas, already has a TV transmitting facility with the necessary AC power and shelter capacity.
“All sites underwent upgrades for networking, internet exchange, fiber, and data center connectivity, in addition to being upgraded to three-phase power,” the newsletter reads. “Each site implemented Comark transmitters and exciters and was built to enable scalability and replication of design for future deployments.”
Ed Tiongson, director of product innovation for American Tower, offered these comments in the newsletter: “The construction phase went quite smoothly. With these ATSC 3.0 deployments, it’s critical to draw on expertise to synchronize single-frequency network towers effectively, including integrating the network components, such as antennas, transmitters and radios for optimum signal delivery.”
The next phase of the project consists of validating the radio-frequency design and link budget through drive tests and gathering data, the newsletter said. It said that the project team will work through operational workflows for management of a market-wide single-frequency network.
The newsletter quoted Jim Leifer, senior manager of broadcast operations at American Tower: “Having the scale and expertise to develop a plan to completion is one of the strengths we offer to our partners. Once the RF measurements are validated, we will be able to scale for additional sites in the future as business needs dictate.”
American Tower’s partners in the Dallas-Fort Worth project include Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar Media Group, owners of multiple TV stations and the founders of the Spectrum Consortium, a membership organization formed to lead the transition to ATSC 3.0 digital TV broadcasting. TV station owners Univision Local Media and Cunningham Broadcasting brought their Dallas TV channels to the project, along with what will be a former TV channel after the TV broadcasting repack is completed. The third channel encompasses frequencies owned by Dish Network.
American Tower’s newsletter says that ATSC 3.0 digital broadcasting will provide many benefits to consumers, including dramatically improved over-the-air reception, immersive audio, deep-indoor reception, mobile reception, zoned programming and advertising, automotive services and advanced emergency alerting. TV broadcasters must be willing to embrace the new technology and spend the money necessary for its deployment even though receiver manufacturers are not required to produce TVs capable of receiving it, nor are the broadcasters themselves required to initiate ATSC 3.0 digital broadcasting.