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ATSC approves, publishes M-EAS specifications

The ATSC today announced it has approved and published Mobile Emergency Alert Service (M-EAS) specifications, which supplement the A/153 Mobile Digital TV standard.

Approval and publication of the standard move availability of M-EAS service one important step closer to the public. With the standard in place and made public, consumer electronics vendors can be assured the M-EAS receive-decoding technology built into future devices will be compatible with a standardized M-EAS service delivered by television broadcasters. Similarly, broadcast equipment vendors can begin building the components needed for broadcasters to deploy a standardized means of delivering rich-media-enhanced emergency information to the public as part of their Mobile DTV service.

Currently, more than 130 TV stations are transmitting mobile DTV signals and a variety of receivers are now in use. 

A mobile broadcast-based emergency alert system offers several advantages, including greater reliability and reach than other alternatives, such as cellphone networks. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy which devastated parts of New York and New Jersey, the FCC announced that as many as 25 percent of cellphone towers in the states affected by the storm were in danger of outages. Ultimately, the storm prompted the agency to hold an ongoing series of public hearings to assess the reliability of the nation’s communications infrastructure during emergencies and ways that it can be enhanced.

The M-EAS system sidesteps the vulnerabilities of cellphone networks by leveraging the strengths of the television broadcasting infrastructure, which includes multiple stations covering the same large geographic area with OTA service, as well as stations with backup towers, transmitters, and — in many cases, generators and sufficient fuel to keep signals on-air for days when power is interrupted.

The M-EAS standard supports more than text alerts during dangerous weather and other emergencies. The M-EAS enhancements to the A/153 standard provide for delivering rich-media content, such as video, audio, text and graphics to mobile DTV-equipped cellphones, tablets, laptops, netbooks and in-car navigation systems.

“We have learned from past events that a natural or man-made disaster can have a devastating impact on communications networks, which quickly become overburdened,” said ATSC president Mark Richer. “The ability to reach millions of people with a single transmission using mobile DTV for emergency alerts can help save lives with instantaneous transmission of news, maps, video, audio and other rich media.”

M-EAS is backward-compatible, and will not affect the performance of mobile TV products already in consumer hands. Future mobile TV receivers can be designed to take full advantage of M-EAS capabilities.

ATSC standardization of the Mobile Emergency Alert Service specifications followed a nationwide pilot project that delivered rich multimedia emergency alerts to prototype mobile TV receivers and proved the viability of the technology.

The pilot project was undertaken by the Public Broadcasting Service and LG Electronics and was co-funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The project received technical support and additional funding from NAB Labs, Roundbox and Harris

The Mobile Emergency Alerts field trial demonstrated the system’s capabilities for delivering multimedia alerts using video, audio, text and graphics) to Mobile DTV-equipped cell phones, tablets, laptops and in-car media systems.