Broadcast spectrum: Congress is the big question. If auction authority is granted under terms similar to the last bill, it is easy to predict the amount of spectrum reclaimed will be much less than 120 MHz. Look for more non-broadcast use of broadcast auxiliary spectrum.
The FCC needs authority from Congress before it can proceed with the incentive auctions that would allow broadcasters to give up their over-the-air spectrum in exchange for part of the auction proceeds. With the problems the current Congress has passing essential legislation, I think the odds are broadcasters will go another year without a clear idea whether or not they will be able to remain on their existing channels. If Congress does manage to pass incentive auction legislation based on the bills that failed, I predict broadcaster coverage will be protected and UHF stations will not have to move to VHF, giving the FCC far less spectrum than the National Broadband Plan assumed would be available, perhaps as little as 24–30 MHz (4 or 5 channels) in congested areas.
The "Broadcast Overlay" would transition broadcasting technology to a system that retains a high-power transmitter, but changes the modulation method to an LTE/COFDM-based system that would allow use of lower-power transmitters to fill in coverage and maximize spectrum efficiency. It offers a lot of benefits to broadcasters and will be more compatible with the new wireless broadband world of tablets and smartphones than A/153 mobile DTV. I doubt we will see it adopted as a formal plan in 2012, but I do expect broadcasters, Congress and the FCC will take a closer look at it, especially if the incentive auctions (assuming they are held) do not return the spectrum or revenue anticipated. Look for the plan to become more refined in 2012, with detailed costs and spectrum benefits.
Originally there was a lot of concern about the impact of white space devices on TV broadcasters. I predict broadcasters and cable companies will see few, if any, problems with interference from white space devices provided the white space database operators have the correct data on receive site locations outside the stations' protected area. This assumes the FCC doesn't approve a white space device that relies on sensing alone to avoid causing interference. I think that's a safe assumption.
Mobile DTV—Newer chip sets perform better than the devices used in the Washington D.C. trial two years ago. The future of mobile DTV depends on the right business models for broadcasters, manufacturers and wireless carriers. This year we'll see it finally come together!
I'll repeat a prediction I've been making for about five years that now seems likely to come true in 2012. ENG crews have already moved to using 3G and 4G networks to send back real-time and non-real-time video from the field. There has got to be a market for laptop-sized Ka-band portable uplinks in newsgathering at the right price and speed, even with the risk of rain fades I'm tempted to say my prediction of portable Ka-band uplinks being used for SNG came true with the use of Eutelsat's KA-SAT for delivering video rushes back to the studio from remote locations, but it didn't include live news and I haven't seen evidence of Ka-band SNG in the United States; I'll keep it in as a 2012 prediction.
I'm sure there will be many surprises in 2012. I'll cover them in RF Report. Let me know what you see happening in the RF world in 2012. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.