Going Mobile

While the industry has been focused on DTV and the transition, other technologies that either could or will affect broadcasters are lurching forward. The temptation is to shrug it off as interesting but not relevant.

But, as Axcera’s Rich Schwartz points out, the concept of mobile TV is gaining attention. “The idea is simple: since most people already carry cellular phones, why not use that same type of device to receive multimedia content such as broadcast video and other information that has previously been restricted to fixed locations?

“MediaFLO [Forward Link Only], while not a standard, is a technology developed by Qualcomm from the ground up for mobile multimedia broadcast services.

“While limited versions of video programming have been available for several years via cellular networks, this comes at the expense of the same bandwidth for voice and data capacity.

“Given the relatively high bandwidth needs of video and the typical one-way nature of broadcast television, many see the need for a separate broadcast network to effectively deliver compelling services.

“Possibly the largest project of this type is the Modeo [formerly Crown Castle Mobile] U.S. deployment at 1.67 GHz, for which Axcera is a primary supplier and integrator.”

As part of its full line of television transmitter products, Axcera also provides a full range of mobile TV transmission systems at VHF, UHF, L-Band and S-Band.

Ever notice how when a technology is needed to prop up the broadcast industry, the RF manufacturers have anticipated and then nurtured evolution? With all eyes riveted on the DTV transition and analog sunset, it’s easy to miss a new parallel technology because it isn’t mandated by the FCC.

Here’s how Harris’ Dave Glidden, director of TV Strategy and Business Development sees things:

“The ASTC market will continue to be promising over the next 3-5 years, headed toward a predictable conclusion with analog sunset on the horizon for 2009.

“Business opportunities will continue; however, first-generation ATSC transmitters are nearing or exceeding the decade mark. In other words, the replacement market, while slow, will grow.

“Meanwhile, follow-on redundancy of digital transmitters and continued power maximization will drive the U.S. market. More importantly, the television industry can look forward to managing through the next major change in U.S. broadcast television: mobile transmission.

“Harris has for some time been participating, from a transmission standpoint, in demonstrations using COFDM modulation. They started in robust configurations of the DVB-T standard, and in 2004 evolved to the mobile handset version of the standard, DVB-H. Mobile is an extension of traditional terrestrial television. DVB-H (Modeo’s choice of standard) and FLO—the modulation approach offered by the Qualcomm subsidiary, MediaFLO USA—use COFDM modulation in the front end, much like the typical DVB-T standard digital TV transmitter.

“Some U.S. broadcasters may be taking a wait-and-see attitude toward mobile TV, but the time for passive observation is rapidly passing. Soon enough, national and local broadcasters will have multiple opportunities to develop and provide content for mobile TV. Short-form content, in particular, may comprise much of the compelling programming for mobile devices. Mobile users may be especially open to local news, sports, weather and traffic from local broadcast stations and brands they know at home.”

Qualcomm’s MediaFLO USA subsidiary won the rights to broadcast on Channel 55 in the UHF band through FCC auction. Using a 6 MHz channel, MediaFLO plans to offer 20 or more channels of programming using H.264 advanced video compression techniques to 1/4 VGA displays on mobile handsets.

The pace of MediaFLO’s service rollout will be gated by the availability of channel 55, market by market, until the analog sunset in early 2009. In late 2005, Verizon announced that it would offer the MediaFLO service in many of its markets by late 2006.

Modeo uses a higher frequency, 1.670 GHz, to offer a similar number of program services in its 5 MHz channel, using a Windows Media approach of advanced video compression.

Successful launches by Modeo and MediaFLO USA could entice other service providers to launch their own mobile TV networks, opening additional opportunities for local and national broadcasters, special purpose content providers and equipment suppliers.

As the U.S. ASTC broadcast market moves into a more mature stage, mobile TV promises to establish new technical and marketing opportunities for all aspects of the U.S. television marketplace.

Ron Merrell is the executive editor.