Mobile DTV Standard Moves Forward

ION launches mobile DTV in New York, Washington
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SEATTLE
Mobile DTV, which allows broadcasters to devote part of their 19.39 Mbps DTV channel for broadcasting television to mobile receivers, took another step forward toward official status as an ATSC standard. In early July the Advance television Systems Committee boosted the mobile DTV standard, known as ATSC-M/H, from candidate standard to proposed standard.

This brings ATSC-M/H within one step of becoming a formal standard, the final step in creation of such a standard, which requires a vote of the full ATSC membership.

"During the ballot [for proposed standard status], comments on the documents were received," said Jerry Whitaker, vice president of standards development for the ATSC. "The appropriate committees are examining the comments and will arrive at suggested resolutions. Once all of the comments have been addressed, the document set will go to a vote of the full ATSC membership. This could happen as soon as next month [August]."

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OMVC PLANS

While the ATSC continues working on the standard, a pair of mobile-DTV projects continue. Both announced at NAB in April, one is the establishment of R&D markets in Atlanta and Seattle, to explore the effects of terrain and geography on mobile TV, and the second is a consumer trial of mobile DTV technology in the Washington, D.C. market.

The R&D markets in Atlanta and Seattle, involving two stations in each city, will give mobile receiver makers the opportunity to test prototypes of their products under actual transmission conditions. Open Mobile Video Coalition Executive Director Anne Schelle said she expects the handset devices to begin testing in the R&D markets next month.

The Washington D.C. consumer trials involve stations from Fox Television, Gannett Broadcasting, ION Media Networks, NBC Universal and Sinclair Broadcast Group, with more expected to join. Plans include putting mobile receivers in the hands of consumers to gauge their reactions to mobile DTV.

By year-end, the OMVC predicts that 70 stations in 28 markets, covering 39 percent of the country, will launch mobile DTV. "We don't expect real mobile devices to be available for sale until CES time [January]," Schelle said.

That timetable was echoed by John Taylor, vice president, Public Affairs and Communications at LG Electronics USA, Inc., one of the developers of the ATSC mobile DTV standard and an expected provider of early handsets. "[We have] nothing firm to announce yet on availability of receivers, but chip production is now under way," he said. "A small number of devices are expected to be made available to broadcasters this fall for early market tests, [with] many more in 2010."

TRIPLE PLAY

One company which is aggressively marching ahead with mobile DTV is ION Media Networks, which in late June announced its DTV "Triple Play" in New York City and Washington, D.C. In the two markets the company is now broadcasting its flagship ION Television network in high-definition, two additional multicast channels, plus Mobile DTV.

"We're very much a believer in what Mobile DTV promises it can do in terms of expanding reach," said Brett Jenkins, vice president, technology at ION "There are something like 300 million video mobile and portable screens. And we would very much like to be able to have our signals reach those devices."

"I think one of the things is that we recognize that, if we want an eco-system to be created where mobile TV is successful, we need to be movers that make that eco-system happen. And one of the ways that we do that is by not just technically demonstrating that those things are possible, but actually putting our signals out on the air so people can view them and figure out what that really means, and what it's going to mean to consumers down the road."

ION is filling its mobile channel with a mix of programming from qubo, ION's children's channel, and ION Life, dedicated to healthy lifestyle programming. "We've had some prototype devices through partners we've worked with over the past couple of years, had them both in New York and Washington D.C.," said Jenkins. "We are taking them place to place and checking out, both on the streets and in buildings, and even in some residential homes, trying to get a good understanding of what mobile DTV coverage is going to look like just relying on the existing broadcast infrastructure.

"And the other thing that I can tell you is that as word gets out about these mobile TV stations being on the air, there will be other people who will [be testing them on our mobile DTV signal] as well, and some of that probably we'll never know about, because people will begin to bring devices into the market, and start learning about it."