Q&A: Mark Aitken on ONE Media ATSC 3.0 SFN Trials

BALTIMORE—A consortium of broadcast technology developers reported doing field tests of ATSC 3.0 concepts over a single frequency network on the East Coast on Monday this week. (See “ONE Media Conducts ATSC 3.0 ‘Concept’ SFN Trials.”) One Media, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Teamcast, Acrodyne, Comark, Dielectric, GatesAir and LG contributed technology and elbow grease to the effort.

Sinclair has been at the forefront of supporting the deployment of ATSC 3.0, an advanced broadcast TV transmission standard said to support features such as interactivity, personalized content delivery and mobile reception, among others. Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair, is the company’s ATSC 3.0 evangelist. He fielded questions from TV Technology about the 3.0 SFN tests, which took place with transmitters in Sinclair’s home turf of Baltimore, and neighboring Washington, D.C.

TV Technology: What is the chief benefit of using a single frequency network versus the traditional big stick, big power method?
Aitken: An SFN allows a broadcaster to provide a higher signal level where he or she wishes to do so. It also allows for a more uniform signal level to be spread across an area to provide for service. This is not to be confused with coverage, which is the out-lived and of-little-relevance term used today.
As well, when fully understood, it is possible to define a QoS (quality of service) for specific reception modes—fixed, portable, mobile, indoor, etc.
Also, higher signal saturation allows the delivery of more bits, and with geographically disperse transmission sites, leveraging tools within the ATSC 3.0 standard makes it is possible to provide hyper-local services within the contours of the individual sites. SFNs are supplemental, but open new business opportunities.

TV Technology:In what way will single frequency networks impact a broadcaster’s post-incentive auction coverage area?
Aitken: Positively!? Kidding, actually it is the service area that is positively impacted. If we are to be good stewards’ of our resources, we will work with the Federal Communications Commission to allow minor coverage modifications that would allow shared siting (co-siting) of SFN facilities, providing better uniform services as a result of minimizing interference that results from multiple sites.

TV Technology:What is the duration of the STA, and what further does this coalition hope to achieve under this STA?
Aitken: STAs are typically six months in duration, with reauthorizations allowed. 

TV Technology:The ONE Media press release said this was “the first of hundreds of SFNs Sinclair Broadcast Group and other broadcasters will roll out in adoption of the next-gen technology.” Whom else, and why?
Aitken: Speaking for SBG, we see opportunities in NextGen services: Ease of reception, including inside the home? Who would not want that? What new businesses can be driven with an ‘all-IP’ wireless pipeline? CDNs? Prepositioning ‘most-consumed’ entertainment?
Mobile rules the roost. We should be part of it, either independently or in conjunction with other service providers.

TV Technology:Why specifically is Sinclair adopting SFNs?
Aitken: 1) More consistency of an easy to receive OTA service. 2) Larger potential audience reach. 3) Higher signal saturation allows the delivery of more bits. (Bits/Hz is Shannon limit defined and vary as a function of signal-to-noise ratio).

TV Technology:The tests were conducted on Ch. 43, which may no longer be part of the TV band after the auction. What are the implications for SFNs in lower frequencies, particularly in the high and low VHF bands?
Aitken: UHF will survive post-auction, so the specific UHF channel is somewhat irrelevant. Also, SFNs provide the same impact on all frequencies, but physics dictate the usefulness within constraints of power. Additionally, high-VHF may be a great place to provide for hybrid vehicular mobile services.

TV Technology:  The field-tested SFN used two transmitters—an Acrodyne 60 kW IOT in Baltimore and a GatesAir solid-state Maxiva ULXT-12 in D.C. What was the EIRP of each transmitter?
Aitken: Baltimore = 800 kW EIRP. Washington = 120 kW EIRP

TV Technology:Why only two transmitters? Does this technically constitute an SFN?
Aitken: Yes. Got to start somewhere; more to follow.We are working towards an understanding of matching SFN emulation model (theoretical) with real-world results. We are partnering on developing a state-of-the-art synchronization and distribution method. We are developing an understanding of the impact of all issues that impact the broadcast transmission topologies that are possible (i.e., optimization of service).

TV Technology:Did this test use the full ATSC 3.0 transmission format, or some flavor of it?
Aitken: A fully compliant ATSC operating mode (similar to Korea’s Mode 4 parameters, modified for transmitter spacing (impact-to-GI and other timing-related parameters). This is truly a first; a start to the required learning.

TV Technology:What is meant by “specific coverage” field tests?
Aitken: First, confirmation of synchronization and ability of receivers to receive. More to come.

TV Technology:What part of the ATSC 3.0 STL standard will this trial attempt to define and finalize?
Aitken: There is not yet a standard, we will continue to co-development. Nowhere near final…

TV Technology:Were both audio and video transmitted in sync?
Aitken: Nope, not required. Soon to follow.

TV Technology:LGE as in LG Electronics, correct? This group has previously worked with Samsung
Aitken: Yes, LGE…we have worked with all parties, and have flourishing relationships with them and many others.

TV Technology: Is there a specific requirement beyond ATSC 3.0 reception for this receiver type?
Aitken: ATSC 3.0 compliance at this time.

TV Technology:Were any of the receivers for this test mobile-enabled?
Aitken: Mobile capable? Yes, but not yet tested…we just turned it on!

Also see…
Feb. 1, 2015
Sinclair Taps Swedish Firm to Implement ATSC 3.0
Sinclair Broadcasting Group has chosen to use Progira Plan, a software-based networking planning tool from Sweden-Based Progira, to help implement the new standard across the SGB TV network.

December 3, 2015
Sinclair Demos HDR 4KTV Over ATSC 3.0 in Vegas
Sinclair Broadcast Group, along with subsidiary One Media and Technicolor, report they have successfully transmitted high-dynamic range 4KTV over the air using the proposed ATSC 3.0 standard and a prototype reception device. 

May 15, 2015
Samsung and ONE Media Drive ATSC 3.0 Candidate Standard“ 
Samsung and ONE Media proposed a hierarchical framework comprised of the ‘bootstrap,’ preamble and data framing to meet broadcasters unique requirements.

April 9, 2015
Technicolor and Sinclair Demo HDR UHD Live Over-the-Air Broadcast
Technicolor and Sinclair Broadcast Group have announced a successful demonstration of UltraHD with high dynamic range live broadcast based on proposed ATSC 3.0 technologies.

October 8, 2014
Sinclair and Technicolor Do ATSC 3.0 4K Over-the-Air Broadcast
Sinclair Broadcast Group and Technicolor delivered an industry first by successfully deploying Technicolor’s ATSC 3.0 4K UltraHD testbed platform and receiving an over-the-air signal.