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Crown Castle Previews New Mobile TV Service at IEEE Broadcast Symposium

The 55th annual IEEE Broadcast Symposium in Washington, D.C. offered its attendees a look at "the next screen" and redefined the "PID" acronym.

The opening proceedings could be best summed up in the title of the first paper, "The Emergence of Digital Video Broadcast TV in Mobile Terminals," presented by Don Shaver of Texas Instruments.

Television broadcasting continues to morph and one of the latest implementations is subscription video delivered through "PIDS." Put aside the familiar "Packet ID" acronym for the time being; the new "PID" stands for Portable Information Device--right now that would translate as a video-enabled cell phone. PIDs, however, are likely come into their own as substantially more than just a cell phone with pictures.

Michael Schueppert of Crown Castle Mobile Media described his company's ongoing field trials of this technology in the Pittsburgh area. This is the first deployment of DVB-H (handheld) network technology in the U.S. Additional trials are being conducted in Germany, Finland, the UK, Australia and France. The U.S. trial is a cooperative effort featuring equipment and services provided Axcera,Thales,Kathrein,Nokia and SES Americom.

One of the unique features of the Pittsburgh trial is the use of L-band spectrum. No broadcast TV channels had to go dark. The system operates within a 5 MHz channel in the 1.670 GHz region. This was formerly a spectrum slot set aside for weather balloon telemetry, but has gone largely unused since weather satellites began to replace the balloons. It has now been cleared nation-wide for this use. The field trial uses a 200 W transmitter, and with antenna gain produces a 2 kW EIRP. It is estimated that the video service could potentially reach 750,000 people in the Pittsburgh area.

Nokia provided their model 7710 handset units or "PIDs" with a DVB-H tuner built in for evaluation of the trial service.

Another feature of the Crown Castle field test is the use of satellite linkage for delivery of content to the "cell" transmitter, instead of leased terrestrial connectivity. Satellite delivery is expected to be very cost effective when compared to the amount being spent now by cell providers for T-1 connectivity to their cell sites.

Satellite delivery made the system easy to demonstrate to the Symposium audience. A Ku-band antenna was temporarily installed on the roof of the hotel hosting the event and delivered digitally encrypted signals to a demodulator and low powered L-band transmitter located in the conference area. The same audio and video signals seen in Pittsburgh were available for viewing by the audience on the Nokia devices.

Another implementation of this technology was described by Capitol Broadcasting's Sam Matheny.

WRAL Television in Raleigh, N.C. has partnered with Sprint and Verizon to provide a local news service to cell phone subscribers in the Raleigh-Durham area. Matheny described the service, introducing the term "the third screen." This is the cell phone's display. The other, older screens are those in television sets and computers.

"We are at the front end of witnessing a fundamental change in how people get their news," Matheny said, citing the demise of afternoon newspapers and the phenomenal growth of the cell phone industry. He said that there are an estimated 196 million cell phones subscribers, with 16 million new subscriptions added so far this year and predicted that with the universality of the cell phone, it will become the favored mode for news dissemination.

We're moving news to the third screen," he said.

WRAL is packaging news, weather, stock and highway information for the Raleigh-Durham area. The service is available by subscription for $3.99 per month. He said a survey showed that people would be willing to pay even more. A popular feature of the service is access to area highway traffic cameras.

Qualcomm's MediaFLO delivery technology was described at the sessions, as was the ISDB-T technology being tested in Japan.