FCC starts churning ATSC 3.0 applications – slowly but surely

Applications regarding the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard began being processed by the FCC this week, while the commission also revealed it expects to complete the modification of its Licensing and Management System to accommodate next-gen TV applications for channel sharing stations by Q3 2019. But regardless of whether the FCC stamps the words “Accepted” or “Declined” on application forms, ATSC 3.0 hopefuls have bigger fish to worry about.

The FCC has added a new step to the process intended to iron out the creases in the traditional broadcast licensing system, supposedly making the ATSC 3.0 licensing procedure easier. Many TV stations might therefore prefer to wait until later this year before these modifications to the FCC’s form 2100 are made, before full deployment in 2020.

Broadcasters intending to transmit the third generation standard must select from one of the following six options from the application:

  • Converting an existing 1.0 facility to 3.0 service and identifying a 1.0 simulcast host.
  • Identifying or changing 1.0 simulcast host station.
  • Identifying or changing 3.0 host station.
  • Discontinuing 3.0 guest service.
  • Converting 3.0 facility back to 1.0 service.
  • Discontinuing 1.0 simulcast service on a host station.

It’s worth noting that broadcasters currently airing 3.0 services are doing so with an Experimental Special Temporary Authority which are given out by the FCC. Now, all TV stations, excluding licensing channel sharing stations, must apply via the new licensing form.

But still the elephant in the room whenever we talk about ATSC 3.0 is when will a supporting handset arrive and is the ATSC 3.0 hype bubble destined to burst? A glimmer of hope arrived earlier this year with the launch of some new silicon supporting ATSC 3.0 from Sinclair Broadcast subsidiary One Media 3.0 – so has that glimmer transformed into an intense glow? No.

Speaking to active players in the ATSC 3.0 space over the past year, Faultline Online Reporter has been perplexed to hear about back-tracking on plans to embrace mobile viewing for several years after initial ATSC 3.0 consumer TV set deployments are due to commence – despite several broadcast players previously pinning hopes on pervading the mobile space.

Working with Indian software-defined radio (SDR) developer Saankhya Labs, silicon R&D outfit VeriSilicon and Samsung Foundry, One Media 3.0 claimed to have launched the world’s most advanced multi-standard demodulator SoC supporting ATSC 3.0, in two flavors. The Demod-only SL3000, designed for linear TV applications such as reception in HDTV set tops and home gateways, and the SL4000, a Demod-plus Tuner variant. But almost five months later and still we have nothing in the way of handset maker adoption; not even an inkling.

It’s no secret that even prominent video technology vendors have expressed doubts that consumer electronics makers will begin fitting ATSC 3.0 chipsets. To achieve this, you need supporting receiver modules to receive the hybrid broadcast-IP signals within an ATSC 3.0 signal, on an ATSC 3.0 capable phone. Insiders will simply say the big screen has always been the primary focus, glazing over just how much ATSC 3.0 was hyped up as the broadcast industry’s mobile-first standard savior.

The only significant progress since then came in February, when The Phoenix Model Market initiative in the US selected encoding technology from Ateme to drive ATSC 3.0 projects. Pearl TV, one of the founding companies behind the initiative, is testing multi-channel HEVC encoding for ATSC 3.0 including UHD and HDR video, immersive audio, DRM, next-generation emergency alerting, Scalable High Efficiency Video Coding (SHVC) and digital ad insertion – using Ateme’s flagship Titan platform.

Although incidentally there was some movement in the ATSC 3.0 vendor space this week, with encoder maker Triveni Digital – another Phoenix Model Market supplier – announcing a new ATSC 3.0 Broadcast Gateway supporting 3.0 broadcast services in HD and UHD. The gateway is available in software and hardware versions.

Speaking some sense, Triveni Digtal’s VP of sales and marketing Ralph Bachofen commented, “The transition to ATSC 3.0 is not going to happen overnight, but the first wave of deployments needs to be built on a solid foundation. Broadcasters need cost-effective solutions that encompass both ATSC 3.0 and ATSC 1.0 services, which will be evolving over the next few years.”

That said, there is a growing conviction among major networks choosing to collaborate to provide a coherent nationwide service exploiting new capabilities, notably the ability to centralize transmissions by banding multiple TV stations in a single market using SFN (Single Frequency Network) technology. This follows the announcement at NAB Show New York in October 2018 that Fox, NBC, Univision, Pearl TV and Nexstar Media Group would collaborate over introduction of ATSC 3.0.