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India Telecom Exec Sees ATSC 3.0 On Mobile Devices Driving Societal Benefits

Pamela Kumar
TDSI Director General Pamela Kumar (Image credit: Pamela Kumar)

An organization mandated for developing telecommunications standards in India is in talks with the Advanced Television Systems Committee to collaborate on development of broadcast/broadband convergence standard in India, and the organization's director general thinks the ATSC standard holds a lot of promise. 

Earlier this year, the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India, (TSDSI) and the ATSC signed an agreement that enables adoption of ATSC standards on mobile devices in India. A trial is ongoing in Bangalore with early demonstrations involving Indian public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati. 

TSDSI Director General- Ms Pamela Kumar is hopeful the international community will rally around the ATSC 3.0 standard and make it part of 3GPP, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, a coalition of seven telecommunications standards development organizations, including TSDSI. Doing so will expedite adoption of 3.0 in the mobile phones in India, she says.

Kumar recently visited the United States and during her trip spoke with TVTech about these developments, the role of mobile phones in Indian life, how 3.0 could play a key role in Indian education and healthcare and why convergence of television and telecom in India holds great promise.

(An edited transcript.)

TVTech: In the U.S., many broadcasters think of ATSC 3.0 in terms of television. But the signal is so robust that it can be received by mobile phones as well. Could you describe how TV on mobile phones fits into a possible use case in India?

Pamela Kumar: We don’t have regular TV that you can watch on smartphones or cell phones yet. We need these new standards, and this [ATSC 3.0] is the new technology. 

People do leverage smartphones in a lot of ways. I’ve seen that even during the Olympics, people were privately taking videos and posting them… [of] some of the events that Indians were participating in. So there is a very important, latent need and desire that TVs should be available because there’s more easy access to smartphones with every person. I think there are more than 1 billion smartphones in the country now.

TVT: So where does ATSC 3.0 stand in India?

PK: The importance of 3.0 comes from the fact that there is so much content that’s becoming available now that’s being watched on the cell phone and being downloaded to various applications and services that people are taking on. So, the cellular networks are really getting crowded.

The amount of data consumption—you’re seeing gigabytes per person per month—that’s going on. The data consumption is growing phenomenally. 

No matter what, 4G or 5G or whatever, more than 90% of what is being used is for video downloads, and a lot of it is actually broadcast content. 

The precious spectrum that is there for the broadcast content is very, very underutilized. Nobody turns on the typical broadcast channel. So how do you merge these networks and make [content] available from a user perspective in a seamless manner?

It’s interesting that the IP world and the telecom world were like two separate worlds, and there was a Berlin Wall between them. Now they are totally converged. What is 4G? 4G is cloud-based. The telephone exchange, the way we knew it, has disappeared. It’s all cloud-based. It’s all IP.

The same thing with broadcast. Why? It’s an artificial barrier now. Broadcast has this very special different way of doing things. It’s about time that this convergence happens in the same way that IP and telecoms converged. 

I think broadcast converging is the next big thing, especially because of the big fight over spectrum.

TVT: If we look at the experience here in the U.S., it’s quite possible the networks of wireless companies could benefit by offloading linear TV traffic to a 3.0 network. But there seems to be an irreconcilable business difference of opinion that prevents the convergence you discussed from happening here. Is that not the case in India?

PK: I believe the wall is not that high, and you know, there are legacy barriers. I’ve seen this again and again. With new technology in the U.S. and Europe–because of business reasons and huge business investments—there is always very strong interest in protecting the legacy.

India has a green field. It’s still a green field. The level of technology investments are there, but you know, it’s not that difficult to leapfrog into the next, new technology.

Now this chip has been created in order to add TV to the phone. TV will become the standard. That is going to happen with all the applications going in this vertical industry space. Education is a big thing, and being able to use broadcast channels to reach everybody with high-quality education is important, and making it interactive. Similarly with healthcare.

Healthcare and education are two very big apps for this broadcast-broadband convergence. These are real needs of society—of humanity—fundamental needs of human society. With that motive, I think we should introduce this convergence. 

We cannot always put business and profit first. Capitalism has its importance, but I think if you oversubscribe to it, then we are going down the wrong path.  

I think the need that ATSC [3.0], or something like it, can serve today is really to address this huge demand for high-quality, using the technology for education and healthcare and making it available irrespective of who is there. The person who needs it, gets it. The guy who is the poorest, probably gets the highest quality healthcare, and why shouldn’t he get it.

TVT: Has there been any movement to deploy 4G/ATSC 3.0 or 5G/ATSC 3.0 networks in India, or is it still too early?

PK: There is some kind of trial that is being pulled together with one of our institutes onboard along with our broadcasters and Saankhya Labs, which has done the [mobile receiver] chip and a few other startups. Reliance Telecom is also being talked to about this.

We in the TSDSI really want to mobilize this community and bring them together, so they are putting up a trial in Bangalore right now. They have done some early demonstrations, and Prasar Bharati, our TV broadcaster, has come forward to enable this. That’s a big deal.

I think over the next year or two the international community should converge and really make it an agenda to make ATSC 3.0 part of the standard of 3GPP [the 3rd Generation Partnership Project].

TVT: Do you have any idea of the timeframe in which there might be movement toward deployment in India with ATSC 3.0 as part of a converged solution?

PK: That’s a tricky question. But I believe if we really get our act together and focus on getting integrated into 3GPP that will help break a lot of barriers and expedite the whole process. Getting it in the field will make it much faster. The service providers and the government will all quickly embrace it. 

We have a path defined to convert things from the 3GPP into national standards and get them deployed at a national level. 

TVT: Do you have any parting thoughts?

PK: I would really like to ask the ATSC 3.0 proponents globally to come and join hands with us at TSDSI and form a small collaboration group. Let’s collaborate. We already have an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with ATSC. Let’s leverage that and go and make this a reality. 

I really believe that a butterfly can flap its wings and can cause a thunderstorm. We just need to start flapping our wings together and cause this converged world to happen.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.