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ATSC 3.0 Primer
Posted on Tuesday, August 1, 2017
ATSC 3.0 Primer


In a short period of time, consumers have changed the way they view and consume media compared to when the first digital TV was deployed. ATSC 3.0 is a new set of standards being developed for the next generation of terrestrial broadcast which will address new consumption trends. The standards are being developed mostly in the US (ATSC being US based).

However, Korea has announced that it will be deployed there first. There is a mandate in Korea to move to ATSC 3.0 starting Mid 2017, which is accelerating the ATSC 3.0 standards and products development.

US broadcasters are interested in the potential ATSC 3.0 can bring to their business, but there is currently no mandate from the FCC nor a firm commitment from all of the US broadcasters that they will move toward ATSC 3.0. With the US spectrum auction, broadcasters need to decide which direction to take. The ATSC 3.0 set of standards could interest other countries looking for a new generation of terrestrial broadcast. As a result, ATSC 3.0 has the potential to become an international standard, like DVB-T2 has become, and not just a North American and Korean standard.

ATSC 3.0 could offer a revolution in the broadcast industry – much more than an evolution of the current delivery system. ATSC 3.0 is based on standards used for broadband delivery mechanism and supports both broadcast over-the-air and broadband delivery. The driving factors behind ATSC 3.0 include TV manufacturers; mostly LG and Samsung; and broadcasters. TV manufacturers are pushing for quality enhancements such as HDR, higher video resolution, higher frame rate, and new audio capabilities. Broadcasters are looking to create new revenue generating services. Both sets of goals are incorporated into the new ATSC 3.0 standards, but clearly there are differing goals from the different drivers to create a new set of standards.

Business Model

ATSC 3.0 is unlikely to be a mandate, at least in the U.S. ATSC 3.0 offers a lot of innovative tools which can enable the broadcasters to update their traditional business and also open new opportunities. ATSC 3.0 gives broadcasters a way to move from a traditional few linear TV services environment into a hybrid environment where TV broadcast and broadband not only interact but complement each other. Broadband (the internet) has moved into the broadcast space (e.g. Netflix), ATSC 3.0 allows the broadcaster to get into the broadband world. The intention of ATSC 3.0 is not to replace 8VSB by only providing the same linear TV services; current 8VSB is ideally suited for that, it is to offer a new innovative technical solution and business opportunities to the broadcasters.

New potential money generating services

If we consider that with ATSC 3.0 the broadcaster could end up with a downlink pipe over RF (one to many) of over 25 Mbits/s to each device or home, we can imagine some new applications and revenue generation. The broadcasters could rent bandwidth for pushing data such as software upgrades, VOD content, targeted advertisements, and software applications to its viewers.

Delivery of video and audio to mobile and moving devices

With the more rugged RF delivery (PLP with high S/N ratio), it is possible to offer high bandwidth content to mobile or moving devices. This could involve traditional broadcast to people in cars, trains, and buses but could also allow, for example, delivery of content to digital signage at malls, store kiosks, displays in taxis, commuter trains and bus advertisement panels. Self-driving cars are coming soon. When the driver doesn’t drive, it is likely that entertainment and TV will play a big role in the car traveling experience. Mobile and moving delivery of content will be critical to the success of ATSC 3.0.

Non-real-time delivery

During non-peak hours, the broadcaster could rent some bandwidth to manufacturers to upgrade the increasing number of devices connected to the internet. We could imagine pushing updates to connected appliances, game consoles, and cell phones in the home. News and sports updates could be pushed over the ATSC 3.0 broadcast and provide VOD-style highlights to the different devices in the home. On the business side, a manufacturer could push updates to all of its dealers or a fleet of deployed cars or devices for example. These delivery modes would provide new revenue streams to broadcasters.

Pinpoint local delivery and customization With ATSC 3.0, it is possible to localize the content and either target the audience based on its demography, the viewer’s past choices, or based on location. This targeted delivery could be crucial in times of emergency but could also generate targeted advertisement dollars by allowing customization of the message based on who is watching and what they are interested in.

Timing of ATSC 3.0 deployment

Korea has set a very aggressive schedule for deployment of ATSC 3.0, they are hoping that by the end of 2017, 70% of Korean homes will be able to receive ATSC 3.0 broadcast. This schedule is driven by a mandate from the government and the upcoming 2018 winter Olympics in Korea.

In the U.S., the situation is different. Broadcasters are in the middle of a lengthy reverse spectrum auction which will result in a move in spectrum allocation and a shrinking of the available broadcast spectrum. There is no mandate to move to ATSC 3.0, and there is unlikely to be one, so the move will be a voluntary, business-based, decision. After the auction, some broadcasters will have sold their spectrum and may exit the broadcast market. However, it is likely that the remaining broadcasters will study a move to ATSC 3.0 as it will allow them to become more competitive in the broadband environment.As ATSC 3.0 is not compatible with current digital broadcast and TV, it is obvious that ATSC 1.0 cannot be replaced in one day, leaving the majority without TV signals. There is no plan to subsidize ATSC 3.0 receivers to homes as was the case when the U.S. moved from analog to 8VSB. Broadcasters will need to generate new ATSC 3.0 services and RF signals and maintain the current 8VSB services for a long time. So, in theory, each broadcaster would have to deploy and maintain two transmitters; one for ATSC 1.0 and another for ATSC 3.0. Considering that the spectrum available will have been reduced and that budgets are tight, some new strategies may need to be put in place. A potential idea for supporting new ATSC 3.0 services would be to collocate multiple local broadcast channels on the same tower and transmitter and maybe even on the same multiplexer. This would allow sharing the cost of deployment and maintenance. With the repack of the spectrum, we could also imagine that the same strategy could happen for the current 8VSB “legacy” services.

Between the repack and the still ongoing development of ATSC 3.0 standards, it is clear that outside of pilot projects and research, ATSC 3.0 will not take off in a commercial way in the U.S. before early 2018 at the earliest.

Get the ATSC 3.0 Primer here: