Mark Aitken Talks CES 2019, 3.0 Receiver Chip Rollout, 5G—Part 1

HUNT VALLEY, MD.--Fresh off the rollout of a multistandard DTV receiver chipset with support for ATSC 3.0 at the International CES 2019 in Las Vegas, Mark Aitken, president of ONE Media LLC and VP of Advanced Technology at Sinclair Broadcast Group is greatly encouraged about the prospects for ATSC 3.0.

Mark Aitken (Photo: James O'Neal)

Mark Aitken (Photo: James O'Neal)

Taking center stage for ONE Media at the annual consumer electronics extravaganza was the rollout of a receiver chipset capable of receiving 12 different digital television standards, including 3.0.

But Aitken’s enthusiasm extends well beyond the favorable reception the receiver chipset received at the show. The exhibit also featured a new broadcast radio head designed to integrate the inherent efficiencies and effectiveness of one-to-many OTA broadcasting into 4G and 5G wireless data networks.

Aitken–a long-time proponent of offloading the one-to-many portion of wireless network operators’ traffic to broadcast—says the broadcast radio head was favorably received by representatives of wireless networks and their suppliers in Las Vegas.

In this, the first of a two-part interview, Aitken talks about the multistandard DTV receiver chipset, the new broadcast radio head, LTE Broadcast and 5G and how 5G standards development envision integration of multiple wireless networks. He also provides an update on his offer to give away 1 million of new receiver chips to any vendor that promises to build them into mobile and portable devices.

(An edited transcript.)

TVTechnology:How would you characterize the reaction coming out of CES 2019 to ONE Media’s rollout of two multistandard DTV receiver chips with support for ATSC 3.0?

Mark Aitken: I would say I was startled by the level of activity and positive feedback.

What I mean by that is we had various meetings set up with Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese, Indian and U.S. companies—makers of dongles, set-top boxes, TV sets and gateways.

At CES, ONE Media debuted a new ATSC 3.0 chip, jointly designed with Saankhya Labs. (Photo: James O'Neal)

At CES, ONE Media debuted a new ATSC 3.0 chip, jointly designed with Saankhya Labs. (Photo: James O'Neal)

The discussions were not just about the chip. The other thing that was in the room as a backdrop for the chip was Saankhya had almost a dozen different applications of software-defined receivers. They ran the gamut from USB dongles and tablets to satellite radios and modulators.

Alongside of that was a product we are in the process of developing as a direct result of our conversations on the convergence of broadcast and broadband. We showed a prototype broadcast radio head.

TVT:What’s that?

MA: A broadcast radio head is a small, outdoor-mount utility device, not at all unlike an LTE radio head, except supporting broadcast.

We were involved in designing that for a customer deployment. The idea is pretty simple–a box that can sit on a tower alongside LTE and 5G that is designed to tie into the data network, the intelligent network of a telecom operator. In the 4G world, it’s the “EPC” [Evolved Packet Core]. In 5G, it’s the new 5G Core architecture.

The point is we are headlong into defining the interconnect of Next-Gen Broadcast to the world of telcom as a supplemental download or auxiliary download or however you want to view it—but a broadcast spectrum-enabled device that allows the conveyance of telcom data across an ATSC 3 waveform.

By the way, I almost hate to say ATSC 3 because with the implementation that is being prototyped and coming into a proof of concept we are supporting parts of the ATSC 3 standard that are extensions that will be enabled and signaled via the bootstrap. So, we are already evolving the standard.

TVT:So, from a wireless operator’s point of view, does this broadcast radio head fulfill what you have talked about for a long time: a technology that enables an operator to offload its one-to-many data traffic to broadcast, thus preserving a significant portion of its wireless network?

MA: Absolutely. It is being designed as a replacement to the very poorly conceived, very poorly implemented multicast mode in the LTE environment.

It’s known to the consumer as LTE Broadcast. It’s eMBMS [Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service].

But eMBMS is a unicast-enabled multicast mode of operation, and it is unicast-enabled because it can’t stand on its own as a broadcast waveform. It lives in the unicast environment and demands the ability to do lost packet replacement knowing there is going to be lost packets replaced versus a designed broadcast standard that is meant to stand on its own.

We are doing all of the plumbing. We are involved in India, not just with the chip development, but we are also a member of the telecom standards organization in India, TSDSI [Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India].

They are working at defining the standard that would allow anybody to a take a non-3GPP [Third Generation Partnership Project] broadcast radio—and I call it a radio because that’s how the telcom guys like to think of it—and tie it into a 3GPP access network. We are defining all the attributes that allow this non-3GPP radio to be integrated into that network.

TVT:What about 5G? It seems like you will be going head to head against what operators plan for 5G broadcast.

MA: Well, these go hand-in-hand. What we are doing is providing an invaluable supplemental feed that is actually aligned with the 5G standard.

TVT:Let me clarify what I was asking. I guess it’s a matter of perspective because I know some broadcasters—and you specifically—have talked about 3.0 being an integral part of a future 5G network. But I don’t know if the wireless industry has shown it is receptive to that and will let broadcasters play in their sandbox.

MA: Look, part of this is a matter of who owns the spectrum. Part of this is a matter of who controls the network.

So, the 3GPP spectrum I am talking about is “TS22.261, Release 16.” There are all kinds of pieces to this puzzle, but it [broadcast spectrum] is one of the many.

TS22.261 is the 3GPP technical standard and system aspects that define service requirements for 5G systems. It’s known as Release 16, and it’s not finished yet. But from its inception, Release 16 has continued to address the requirements to work in conjunction with 3GPP and non-3GPP systems.

There is an absolute recognition that 3GPP doesn’t live in the world by itself. There are other standards, and the true nature of 5G has nothing to do with specific spectrum.

You say 5G, and there are some people who think it is 20 GHz, or it is millimeter wave or it’s 60 GHz. People jump to the spectrum side of it, and there is some spectrum that is being opened up for advanced radios.

But at its heart, 5G is about convergence. 5G is about multi-radios. 5G is about how do we assemble all of the available radio assets into a unified environment? How does a telco fully utilize WiFi, how does it fully utilize all the efforts that are going on in CBRS [Citizens Broadband Radio Service].

How do all of these things get pulled together in one place? That is what this 5G spec is all about. It’s about convergence. It’s about heterogeneous networks—that’s the fancy term. Hybrid networks is an easier one to think about. And we have talked for so long about this convergence of broadcast and broadband—I don’t know how many different ways I have tried to describe it, but it goes much deeper than simply it’s [3.0 is] IP-enabled.

But I can tell you that if it weren’t IP-enabled, there would be no discussion on the table.

Great, it’s IP-enabled. That means the same stuff that flows across the carrier’s [spectrum] can flow across our spectrum. Check that box off. Well, how do you control that? How do you put that as an active, living mechanism under the control of a network operator? We are doing that work.

And I say all of that because if you walked into the room [at CES] and you could have the big screen TVs and the very same 3.0 chip doing ATSC 3 on one screen and ATSC 1 on another screen. If you wanted, it could have been DVB-T, DVB-T2 or ISDB-T. It could have been some of the advanced DVB satellite [standards]. It could be any of those.

But the point is in the background of that was this whole vibrant discussion of what if broadcasters were doing something more than television. There’s a shock.

I always have to draw people’s attention to the fact that ATSC was building a television standard. We were engaged in ATSC because we wanted a broadcast standard.

What you have in ATSC 3 is a broadcast standard, a broadcast television standard, but by nature of elements that were foundational—and by the way ours, I mean down to the IPR [intellectual property rights]—we ensured that we were not precluded from doing the other things we knew were possible with a newly baked, green field broadcast standard. Now we are beginning to explore those areas.

TVT:What sort of things?

MA: A very simple example, if you want high-speed mobility, an 8K FFT [fast Fourier transform] is not good enough. 8K gets you up to 100-plus mph. But what if you want a broadcast standard that can operate at Autobahn speeds or will support bullet trains? What if you have a broadcast standard that is more than just automobiles?

Well, you need a 2K or 4K FFT—neither of which are in the ATSC 3 standard, but are fully possible if you want to create a modulator that will do a 4K FFT for example—and a receiver that will process a 4K FFT.

Guess what. We have a software-defined radio. So, we can literally create a waveform on the front end and demodulate that waveform on the backend because both ends of that are software-defined.

We are doing simple stuff first, but it will advance to different coding techniques, different modulation schemes. We are crawling. We are just starting down the road.

So, in the background in this room [at CES], there was this radio head on a big tripod and an antenna attached to it that was demonstrating to people that there are products being envisioned and prototyped and that are going to be deployed that fit directly into the mobile network operator environment.

I choose those words carefully because it wasn’t until we were having discussions with one of the major providers to the telco industry, as we are describing this, that they said you are describing an architectural element.

We said, you are absolutely right. This is building a mobile network operation a bit differently. It’s just the primary architectural element is broadcast, not unicast. It’s not to the exclusion of unicast.

TVT:A couple of years ago at the ATSC annual meeting, you made an offer to provide 1 million ATSC 3.0 mobile receiver chips for free to mobile or portable device makers. Did your CES chipset rollout get you any takers?

MA: We had a couple of conversations with dongle manufacturers who wanted to know how they would take advantage of our offer. So, we’ve now got two vendors with whom we’ve had that first level of discussion. We are getting down to how we make that happen.

I can’t give you all the details of that, but the criteria for that was simply that it’s a party that commits to putting a million of these chips into mobile and portable devices, and that is a fairly broad range of products. And they may not all be ATSC 3.

In Part II,  Mark will discuss his concept of a "broadcast market exchange," content security within ATSC 3.0 and Sinclair's plans for Next Gen TV deployment in 2019. 

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

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.