Will 2020 be the year of next gen TV with high speed internet?

via Flickr © Robert Scoble (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Robert Scoble (CC BY 2.0)

  • In the US this is the hope as the FCC gets behind the ATSC 3 standard
  • Automotive applications are big targets for the new TV technology
  • However the pandemic is likely to put the brakes on the roll-out

US TV broadcasters and associated vendors plus the FCC are all getting behind the  latest US ‘Advanced Television Systems Committee’ (ATSC) standard, ATSC 3,  which defines the way digital television can be transmitted over terrestrial, cable and satellite. As reported in TelecomTV’s 7am News email, the FCC is promising to take out any regulatory show-stoppers which might stymie developments (see - FCC to vote on advancing 'Broadcast Internet' services next month). It sees the resulting services, if ATSC 3 is taken up by the broadcasters, as being a way to provide Internet access of a sort to communities currently starved of decent broadband - or any broadband - a deficiency that’s been thrown into stark relief with the onset of the nationwide lockdown which has seen people (especially students now studying from home) being driven to Walmart or similar to access  Wi-Fi.

Champion of the standard within the FCC appears to be commissioner Brendan Carr who says “broadcast Internet services are poised to offer a new and competitive broadband pipe... able to...  leverage the power and coverage of broadcast television spectrum to deliver high-speed, 25 Mbps Internet services.”  

To claim that ATSC 3.0 could deliver high-speed, 25 Mbps Internet services is pushing the truth envelop a bit, but you can see the FCC narrative starting to form. ‘We may not have been able to get proper broadband to every American home just yet, but look at this new way of using the TV as a broadband pipe instead.”

Here’s how it works. The ATSC standards have been around since the early 1990s and have been adjusted to take advantage of improving picture encoding and resolution. By the time we get to ATSC 3 the technology can pump much more data down the same sized channel which means it can be used to flesh out the resolution of the picture and sound, or accommodate up to 6 other, lower resolution sub-channels broadcasting on the one 6MHz channel. 

The sub-channels could be other video streams (perhaps different views of the same action in a sports programme) or they could be pumping through HTML pages related to the content on the main video channel - or a combination of both. For structured educational material it’s easy to see how this sort of multimedia experience could work very well, but as an interactive access service for the internet, it won’t cut it. 

But the FCC and the industry have also sensed a monetisation opportunity. While ATSC 3 may offer a pretty sad approximation of a multidirectional broadband access pipe, it could almost certainly do some narrow datacoms applications that wireless data pipes, no matter their ‘G’, just couldn’t.

Automotive applications offer the most tempting opportunities. The broadcast capability allied with the near ubiquitous coverage that could be engineered if the broadcasters were able to cooperate, means that the systems could simulcast software upgrades or enrich map data as vehicles are on the move.

One way to look at it: about 20 years ago IPTV started muscling its way into the video broadcast domain, now TV broadcast is evening up the score by broadcasting HTML.  It sounds reasonable. Maybe we’ve now got to the point where business models compete, rather than technologies

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