ATSC 3.0 Standards: Are We Done Yet?

Although Next-Gem TV standard is not fully complete, broadcasters can start on deploying June 26, 2017

For the past couple of years, when people asked, “When will ATSC 3.0 be completed?” the target date we gave was “by the end of the second quarter of 2017.” Well, here we are at the end of the second quarter of 2017. So, how did we do? Actually, quite well.

When it comes to planning a major project, it is important to set realistic deadlines that meet the needs of the end-users or customers. While nearly everyone involved in standards work would like to see projects move swiftly through the process, they realize that no single organization or group has all the answers to a particular problem—or has even thought of all the questions. A great deal of creativity emerges from the competition of ideas. Finding solutions to complex problems takes time and requires participants to occasionally give up on their favored approach and agree that someone else’s approach is better. It is this focus on developing the best ideas that makes the process work. And that takes time.

TIMING FOR FLEXIBILITY

Standardization work, like most any other product, can be adversely impacted by timing. A standard may be developed and finalized too early in the technology lifecycle. If so, it may be outdated by the time it is issued because the underlying technology has continued to move forward, leaving it of limited value in the marketplace. On the other hand, a standard developed too late in the process may remain unused because a proprietary solution reached the market first and has become a de-facto standard, or the intended users have simply moved on to something else.

Because any television transmission standard is a complex project with many moving parts and outside factors, it is difficult to set deadlines and make them stick. However, since there are many diverse stakeholders in a complex standard, each with individual timelines related to their business needs, it is important to keep to the schedule as closely as possible.

For ATSC 3.0, our schedule has largely been met. And the timing couldn’t be better.

 
Fig. 1
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The first meeting of the Technology Group on ATSC 3.0 was held on Nov. 30, 2011. At that meeting, initial work was divided into two major areas: System Requirements and the Physical Layer; those were the first groups formed to develop what emerged to be ATSC 3.0. At the May 9, 2012 meeting, a draft timeline was unveiled. That timeline, which looked forward three years, is shown in Fig. 1.

The end-point of the draft “3-year plan” had the “Published Specification” completed by December 2015. Keep in mind this timetable was proposed before we knew whether ATSC 3.0 would be a single document, or a suite of two dozen documents. (We ended up with two dozen.) As it turned out, the key element of ATSC 3.0, A/321 “System Discovery and Signaling,” was approved  on March 23, 2016—just a few months after the very first draft timeline. A/321, of course (sometimes called the “bootstrap”), is the element that various parties have asked the FCC focus on with regard to regulatory matters. The physical layer, described in A/322, followed shortly thereafter.

NOT A VICTORY LAP

As the scope of ATSC 3.0 was further developed, the initial timeline gave way to a more complete plan that reflected the huge amount of work that needed to be done. And that brings us to the “end of the second quarter of 2017” goal for completion of the major elements of ATSC 3.0.

The status of work is visually documented in Fig. 2. It can be seen that most elements of ATSC 3.0 have been completed. The remaining elements are moving forward at a rapid pace. Will they all be done by June 30? No. Can implementers build a system today based on the published documents? Yes. And they are.

This blog is not a victory lap. A considerable amount of work remains to be done. But, all of the major elements have either been completed, or will be completed soon.

 
Fig. 2
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While work continues to wrap up the remaining standards, new efforts are focused on developing Recommended Practices that provide implementation guidance to TV station engineers. In addition, updates to the approved ATSC 3.0 standards are being done as needed. With any complex standard, work to refine the documents will continue for some time. This is the nature of standards development work.

The progress made on ATSC 3.0 was only possible because of the enormous contributions to time, effort and technology by hundreds of engineers around the world. As we approach “the end of the second quarter of 2017” this is a good time to say thanks to the ATSC member companies for all their hard work over the past 6 plus years. It’s quite an accomplishment.

All ATSC 3.0 Candidate Standards are available here.

For a comprehensive list of TV Technology’s ATSC 3.0 coverage, see our ATSC3 silo.

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