Looking back on 2008... And Forward to 2009

If 2008 was a hectic year, 2009 promises to be at least as challenging, with the analog shutdown and many stations scrambling to switch DTV channels and educate viewers about the change.

In past years, I've used the year-end edition of RF Report to summarize the year's events and look forward to the next year. There simply wasn't enough current RF news generated during the last two weeks of the year. As an indication of how busy a year this has been for the FCC and TV engineers, in the final two weeks of 2008 the FCC introduced a new service to allow broadcasters to fill in gaps in analog coverage using "replacement DTV translators," released a proposal to allow some stations to remain on the air in analog for 30 days after the February shutoff date to broadcast DTV transition information and emergency information and has released a major report showing the differences in stations' digital and analog coverage, including maps for the entire country. There was no shortage of news this year!

This year the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) took a major step in making sure broadcast TV remains relevant in a world were most TV sets receive programming through cable or satellite connections and not off air. It is hard to believe that in one year, starting with multiple proposals for broadcast mobile DTV, the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) completed its Independent Demonstration of Viability, multiple proposals became one--based primarily on the LG/Harris "MPH" proposal, and ATSC, working with the OMVC Technical Advisory Group (OTAG) and manufacturers approved a Candidate Standard for mobile DTV broadcasting. Equipment for the new standard which will be shown at the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in less than two weeks, and broadcasters across the country will begin transmitting programming to these devices next year.

Mobile DTV will create new challenges for TV stations that have relied on cable and satellite to fill in holes in their coverage. They are not an option for mobile DTV. Fortunately, the FCC has given broadcast engineers a number of tools they can use to fill in gaps in coverage, including distributed transmission systems and, as announced last week, replacement DTV translators.

If 2008 was a hectic year, 2009 promises to be at least as challenging, with the analog shutdown and many stations scrambling to switch DTV channels and educate viewers about the change. As you can see from this week's DTV Station Status Report, 371 applications are still pending for post-transition DTV facilities. Most of these are for expanded coverage, but as the FCC study released last week shows, this expanded coverage and, perhaps more important, stronger signal strength inside stations' existing coverage area, will be needed to provide reliable DTV service to some viewers.

Unfortunately, due to the FCC's delay in processing the huge number applications received, engineers at many stations will be challenged to figure out how to make these improvements with minimum disruption to existing DTV service, especially when antennas need to be changed. Even if the FCC grants these applications quickly, delays in obtaining antennas and other critical components mean tower crews and transmitter installers are likely to be busy well into 2009 building "final" DTV facilities.

If interest in mobile DTV is as high as expected, by the time these final DTV facilities are completed we'll be focusing on how best to fill in the remaining gaps in coverage through distributed transmission and translators.

The FCC approval of use of TV channels for "white space devices" in 2008 could create challenges not only for broadcast engineers, but also for cable TV engineers as well, when these devices start appearing on the market. Identifying and resolving interference from such devices is likely to be difficult.

I look forward to sharing news on all of these issues and more in 2009. Many thanks to the readers that have taken the time to e-mail me with news and other information for RF Report and apologies to those whose e-mails I did not have a chance to respond to. They too were appreciated. Best wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year!