At the convention in Las Vegas, it was apparently time to shuffle the RF deck once more. Thales disappeared from the Central Hall and reappeared in the South Hall. Tucked in with Thomson Grass Valley, it’s likely they will deal their way back to the main hall in time for NAB2007.

While some organizational changes take place, you can expect Thales RF products to remain essentially the same. Their latest product additions are closely tied to the mobile TV movement. On the transmitter side of Thales products, look for the brand name and the Dick Fiore-led sales force to remain basically intact.

At the LARCAN booth, it looked like business as usual, but it definitely wasn’t. Long-time president Jim Adamson slid over to become a senior vice president to make room for a new president. In the wake of the acquisition by ATX, there were no signs of panic or stress.

ATX Incorporated is a diversified, global technology company focused on the broadcast, telecommunications and satellite industries. LARCAN will continue to build their “bulletproof” transmitters and translators.

The only apparent product changes in the short term will be that LARCAN is expected to join the growing list of RF manufacturers dedicated to mobile TV product developments. This will be a significant change for LARCAN over time.

The ATX connection is a natural outgrowth of LARCAN’s interest in international sales.

Ai (Acrodyne) had its cards close to the vest, but did infer that they also might be a mobile TV player. For now, it’s the same products and a reliance on their “Mr. Reliability” image.

Don Adams, long heralded as one of this industry’s most respected RF engineers, has brought ABS back to life. ABS had been acquired by EMCEE, but disappeared after EMCEE folded. It’s not a major RF player, but a welcome sight. It’s doubtful that Adams will spread out his forces to include new products for the Mobile market.

That would seem to leave DMT USA as the other transmitter manufacturer not in the mobile TV hunt. Not so! DMT not only has products specifically designed for mobile TV, but it also has experience in that area in the European markets. And, DMT is now reporting transmitter sales in the U.S.
But mobile TV was more than talk at the show. There were live demonstrations of the technology, namely by Axcera, Harris and Thales.

Like Thales, Harris is uniquely positioned to become a major player in mobile TV because of its diversified product lines.

While the expectations for transmitter sales abound for mobile TV—maybe even in the thousands—they won’t go far without antennas. Dielectric was right on target with its new line of antennas designed for the upper and lower segments of the 700 MHz band. Dubbed MobileMedia antennas, they were specifically designed for mobile TV applications. They include slotted coaxial types and panel designs. They’ll offer vertical, elliptical and horizontal polarization.

There wasn’t a lot that was new in the transmitter booths, although DMT USA is now offering a new dual mode solid state rig. Mostly, what’s been good news for buyers are the reports that the newest tubes from E2V, CPI, L3 Communications and Thomson are living up to high efficiency expectations.

Undoubtedly, this huge money-saving capability has taken some of the sting out of transmitter purchases aimed at beating the July deadline for maximization of power. In just a few years, the power saving should cover the purchase price. After that, profits will allow purchases of DTV equipment that’s been on hold in recent years. Still, as expected, some marginally profitable TV stations have opted for holding their cards for another time, even though time is running out.

One new product did surface, winning one of our Top Innovation Awards, as Axcera introduced its new Axciter.

Axciter uses a Linux operating system and dual processors, with the mission critical ATSC signal generation handled independently of the adaptive correction, graphical user interface, and DTVision signal analysis system. Thanks to the high performance Linux computer, a complete transmitter system can be fully equalized in an amazing two minutes.

The Axciter is designed for simple field upgrades to new operating modes, such as DTx slave, E-VSB, Watermark or other yet to be adopted ATSC enhancements, by inserting a USB flash drive into one of the three available USB ports and executing the upgrade through the front panel GUI.

Over on the microwave side of the business, 2 GHz continues to inch forward. Like everything else in this business, the FCC is part of the answer and part of the problem. Expectations have been so high that the reallocation delays are all the more exasperating. NSI, for example, has the new products designed and in many cases already built, so their bets are in. Microwave Radio and BMS would says, “OK! Deal already!”

Meanwhile, COFDM—the technology the industry failed to adopt for over-the-air television—is picking up steam in the U.S., whether it be for newsgathering or mobile TV.

Somehow along the line between daylight and darkness, RF continues to prevail. But one wonders how many more opportunities will be dealt to this industry.

Ron Merrell is the executive editor.