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The Core Message: ATSC 3.0 Can Fuel Cable Growth

The periodic, contentious negotiations between the cable and television broadcast industry over retransmission rights might mask the fact the two have had a fruitful relationship since at least the 1960s.

Like any other long-term relationship, however, if it’s to succeed there’s a need from time to time to freshen things up and create a bit of excitement.

That’s exactly what Sesh Simha, vice president, Advanced Technology at ONE Media-Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Peter Guglielmino, Media & Entertainment CTO at IBM, proposed Oct. 15 during their session at the virtual SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo 2020.

Their presentation, “Broadcast Core: A Supplementary Datacasting Enabler for Cable,” painted a picture of the future in which the cable industry can leverage the OTA capabilities of TV broadcasters transmitting ATSC 3.0 to grow its reach and capture new business.

“It struck me… that this is really going to dramatically enhance and extend the audience and service capabilities that cable is able to deliver,” said Guglielmino. “Instead of just looking at linear TV, extending it… [offers] all of these datacasting opportunities that give cable operators, really, access to spectrum they… never had before.”

(Image credit: Cable-Tec Expo)

For cable engineers attending the session who might have been unfamiliar with ATSC 3.0, Simha explained that TV broadcasters adopting 3.0 are required to continue delivering their main linear channel for free to the public but may devote the rest of their bits to providing datacasting services. Further, the FCC made clear with a declaratory ruling in June that the datacasting services broadcasters can offer are “not bound by the ownership rules” that pertain to their TV operations, he said.

“This is where the market will innovate, and this is what I am really excited about,” he said. “This is where the [broadcast] core [network] has meaning.”

THE BROADCAST CORE

Both Simha and Guglielmino are members of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) Planning Team 8, tasked with developing an understanding of why a broadcast core is needed and how it relates to ATSC 3.0 terrestrial broadcasting. The team is also charged with identifying use cases and commercial benefits for the core.

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The broadcast core would enable interoperability with other networks—whether that’s a telecom core network or the cable industry’s core network. “Many of the ramifications of a broadcast core relate to what the convergence will be between broadcaster and cable operation,” said Guglielmino.

Planning Team 8 is investigating how to unify data management, handle network slices across various networks and deal with session management to enable seamless end-user experiences. The team is also looking at how to “make sure that the policies and quality of service that are enacted in one network are transported with the same level of quality across different networks,” he said.

Other goals for the broadcast core are defining and unifying the user plane and providing access and mobility function for wireline services, he said, noting there are “tremendous opportunities for cable working together with broadcast.”

Chief among the opportunities is leveraging broadcasters’ over-the-air footprint to fill in coverage gaps, said Guglielmino. “From our perspective, it is really about how can we help our cable colleagues increase their reach and increase their audience,” he added.

The planning team also has the goal of building the broadcast core network using open source technologies and virtualization that will enable “web-scale architectures” to ensure broadcasters stay “competitive in this all-IP environment,” he said.

At the end of its process, Planning Team 8 will present its findings and make recommendations to the ATSC board of directors, which will then vote on whether or not to authorize work to begin on standards for the broadcast core, said Guglielmino.

LEVERAGING BROADCAST

Simha presented a simple, yet powerful, diagram that explained how ATSC 3.0 and a broadcast core could help the cable industry grow.

“You have a cable core, and on the other side you’ve got devices, and what you have in the middle is 210 markets full of broadcasters with towers that deliver very, very reliable and robust wireless,” he said describing the diagram.

“So now, if I place a broadcast core, that can connect you to these devices through the ATSC system, then voila, what do we have?” he asked, rhetorically. “We have a very, very powerful supplementary datacasting capability that can deliver content to a host of devices—fixed or mobile—whether that’s a set-top box, a television, a phone with a dongle, a phone with a chip, a home gateway [or] a laptop,” he said.

Simha pointed out that Planning Team 8’s work on a broadcast core is not being done in a vacuum. In July, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the umbrella group of standards bodies worldwide that develop mobile telecom protocols, injected “new momentum in the verticals that 3GPP normally does not look at” with Release 16, which covers IoT, Vehicle-to-Everything, or V2X, and media and entertainment, he said. 

“There is a lot of work 3GPP has done that we are going to borrow from,” said Shimha.

Concluding the presentation, Simha laid out the street cred of ONE Media and parent Sinclair when it comes to ATSC 3.0 and the broadcast core. “We are already doing a virtualization of our core as part of a company-wide business transformation,” he said. 

Further, the broadcast group provides guidance and contributes to many ATSC groups and internationally is engaged with the ITU, 5G-MAG and ATOS/3GPP.

“I would like to point out that we are working with IBM on an implementation team that is now focused on India because we think India is extremely important to getting the device ecosystem going,” he said.

“Just imagine India is a country that has about 1.2 billion wireless subscriptions—all of that from three operators.”

ONE Media is working with IBM and other companies to develop several use cases and proofs of concept—all of which are being organized in the cloud, he said.

“I think the message here, Peter, is with your help we can move some of these proof of concept demonstrations to anybody, anywhere. So, we are hoping we do that with the cable industry.”