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Small Screen DTV

I've often said that delivering a signal to smaller portable TV sets with indoor antennas was as important for the future of over-the-air television as delivering HDTV to large screen TV sets hooked up to outdoor antennas. While most large screen TV sets will end up connected to cable or satellite for programming, the small screen TV on the kitchen counter is likely to depend on over the air TV reception. Judging from this year's interest in delivering TV programming to cell phones, broadcasters will need to target even smaller screen sets!

The cell phones won't be picking up ATSC DTV broadcasts over-the-air. QUALCOMM has announced it will use its CDMA technology for broadcasting to cell phones in the lower 700 MHz spectrum (TV channels 52-59) it won in an FCC auction. Crown-Castle, another FCC lower 700 MHz auction winner, said it plans to use the DVB-H standard for its TV to cell phone service. QUALCOMM said one source of programs for its service could be local broadcasters.

ATSC approved the E-VSB (enhanced VSB) standard that trades off data rate for a more robust signal. By sacrificing some of the data bandwidth available with 8-VSB broadcasters can provide a robust, low data rate signal that can be received under conditions where the main 8-VSB signal is unusable. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any consumer electronics manufacturers planning to build receivers (small or large) with E-VSB capability nor have I heard of any broadcasters planning to use this mode. Will we see any signs of acceptance of E-VSB technology in 2005?

Although it seems possible that a chip set could be developed to allow E-VSB reception of DTV on cell phones, is there any incentive for cellular providers to offer it if they can't charge for it? If E-VSB on cell phones is to be successful, it will likely require a joint effort by a broadcast group and a nationwide cell phone operator to provide a pay cell phone TV service. Although QUALCOMM and Crown-Castle have already obtained spectrum covering much of the country for their cell phone TV services, another operator may find the ability to use a wide area distribution platform (broadcast DTV) that is already built out attractive. USDTV is working with broadcasters to provide a selection of cable TV channels to households at lower cost than wired cable TV. Perhaps a similar cooperative model would work for cell phone TV. Of course, before any of this can happen we need to see how well E-VSB works in the real world and how difficult it will be to adapt existing 8-VSB chip sets to work with E-VSB under the severe power constraints present in mobile devices.