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Dish Considers Expanding ATSC-MH Ch. 56 Mobile TV

Ever since Dish Network won the auction for 700 MHz licenses on what used to be TV Ch. 56, there have been questions about what the company planned to do with the spectrum. The spectrum is adjacent to the former Ch. 55 spectrum used by Qualcomm for its ill-fated MediaFLO mobile TV service. One possibility would be to use it for a video service using ATSC-MH technology. Dish allowed Harris to use its Ch. 56 spectrum for an ATSC-MH mobile DTV demonstration at CES 2010.

In June, Manifest Wireless, LLC, a subsidiary of Dish Network Corp., filed a Request for Extension and/or Waiver of Interim Construction Benchmark for its 168 licenses in the 700 MHz E Block (722-728 MHz). Manifest pointed out that like other E Block licensees such as AT&T and Thomas K. Kurian, it “has faced equipment availability and other challenges impacting the build out of its 700 MHz Licenses.” Manifest requested a waiver of the interim construction period for its 700 MHz licenses and/or extension of that period until at least two years after: “(i) the date the Commission renders a final ruling in its pending proceeding on interoperability, or (ii) the date on which E Block consumer devices capable of operating across Dish’s wireless ecosystem in a secure environment become commercially available.”

In the filing, Manifest said it recently filed notifications with the commission to commence testing high-powered 50 kW operations at 10 additional sites throughout the country and is evaluating opportunities to expand this testing to even more sites.” In particular, Manifest is evaluating the use of ATSC-MH “in a fixed environment in order to determine if this will improve the reliable reception distance of a 50 kW signal.” Manifest is actively studying the LTE-Advanced eMBMS technology and it is a member of 3GPP, which is working on eMBMS standards.

Manifest found in testing technologies for its 700 MHz spectrum “that a significant drawback to high-powered operations of one of the technologies tested, OFDM, is that certain technical limitations would require Manifest to buy more expensive transmitters, which in turn would impair the business case for the mobile video service. Moreover, Manifest would be creating a new device ecosystem with OFDM technology for 700 MHz, which would add cost due to the lack of economies of scale.”

However, Manifest's work with Dish at 3GPP on LTE carrier aggregation of Band 29 (which includes the combined Lower 700 MHz D and E Blocks) and Band 23 (AWS-4), which it expected to be approved in June, would appear to indicate ATSC-MH would only be an interim solution. Once the Band 23/29 carrier aggregation is approved, it will take some time for chipsets and consumer equipment to be developed and become available.

A major concern for Manifest are the pending FCC Interoperability Notice proposals that would greatly limit the transmitted power its 700 MHz spectrum. 50 kW facilities would no longer be allowed. See Qualcomm Examines Ch. 51/56 Interference on Wireless Systems for more information and a link to the FCC NPRM.

In spite of the risks and challenges, “Manifest remains encouraged by the future prospects for broadcast mobile video,” the company said in its filing. The growing availability of ATSC-MH reception on smartphones and tablets, either through a built-in tuner in the MetroPCS Samsung phone and RCA tablet or through an external device like the dongles from Elgato and Belkin, and with more devices on the way, would give Manifest a way to launch a mobile DTV service while it waits for LTE eMBMS devices to arrive. In its filing Manifest said, “there are no devices available capable of providing the secure access needed in a mobile broadcast video subscription-based model.” That's no longer true. Dyle TV currently transmits encrypted signals that require authentication and a “subscription,” which, while currently free, would support a for-pay service with different service tiers.

Trip Ericson describes his analysis of a signal Manifest is running on Ch. 56 that was received near Raleigh, N.C., in EchoStar Expands Ch. 56 on which also has a EchoStar Transmitter List. Comments note Ch. 56 reception in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Mike Dano has information on Dish Network (Manifest) testing at 13 locations around the country in his article Dish considers expanding 700 MHz mobile TV service to 40 markets. Dano also provides a link to a coverage map and this additional comment from Manifest “Manifest is encouraged by recent deployments and promotions of mobile video by various broadcasters, as Manifest sees these developments as complementary in fostering consumer adoption and broader integration interest from device manufacturers.”

As I've written in the past, a Dish entry into the mobile DTV market could be good news for broadcasters and provide the additional spectrum needed to offer premium channels to mobile DTV consumers. Some of the program streams identified on the Raleigh broadcasts include HGTV, Discovery, Comedy Central, Toon, Food, TNT and CNN. One of the major complaints about ATSC Mobile DTV is the lack of channels. Adding these channels could help resolve that complaint.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.