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20 October 2020

NFV-based ATSC 3.0 with edge caching will arrive in 2021

The ATSC 3.0 standards, for digital TV transmission over various types of network, have their fair share of critics. Designed to support hybrid broadcast/broadband video delivery, they arrived late into the US market and have made little impact. But a new approach to deployment could put ATSC 3.0 on the map again, including for TV services to 5G smartphones.

Gary Roshak, CEO of VSatcast, and Greg Herman, CEO of Spectrum Evolution and WatchTV, announced a breakthrough that uses NFV (network functions virtualization) to support the first “touchless deployment” of an IP broadcast Internet service. This means a service can be remotely deployed without any engineers or equipment required on-site. This is achieved by harnessing NFV in a cloud-hosted delivery architecture and applying video caching at the edge.

“Rather than doing linear broadcast, we are moving the edge to the consumer,” said Roshak. In this instance, the edge is a gateway device in the home, so this is really on-device caching of video content. “We are choosing to do IP multicasting on top for edge caching, so you could say we are building a file transfer service,” he added.

This method of edge caching using NFV is major step up from the non-real time delivery system, approved way back in 2012, where ATSC services were carried in digital TV broadcast multiplexes for delivering content well in advance of use.

VSatcast brings its satellite-based content delivery network platform and wireless experience to the project, while Spectrum Evolution owns a bunch of mobile licences  via WatchTV’s facilities in Portland, Oregon.

The result of virtualizing essential components in the transmission chain is a software evolution for ATSC 3.0 – one that could accelerate the standard’s infamously slow uptake and eventually propel it into the mainstream.

“ATSC 3.0 doesn’t really exist today. Nobody has capable TV sets or set-tops, but folks are working hard to get there,” added Roshak. Hardware support is clearly still a challenge for uptake, although Herman has great expectations for ATSC 3.0 support in 8K TVs, as well as smartphones. “It works wonderfully on mobile. Sinclair is a big believer in mobile. The ATSC 3.0 mobility opportunity is huge to diversify networks,” added Herman.

It just so happens that Sinclair’s One Media 3.0 delivered a batch of prototype ATSC 3.0-capable smartphones last week, some 3.5 years since an agreement was struck with Saankyha Labs to develop ATSC 3.0 chipsets. The One Media Mark One is an Android device with an embedded antenna for receiving NextGen TV services, and Sinclair is reportedly in talks with a couple of MVNOs about offering the device.

Further significance from this project is found from progress in deploying the broadcast component of the 5G network (see separate item). Blending broadcast and cellular networks can achieve efficiency savings and service benefits through integration across the stack, combining the two sides more intimately over the spectral range operators have and introducing greater interactivity into broadcast. The 5G network slicing approach for example can enable bandwidth to be allocated on demand to broadcast services from spectrum usually reserved for unicast transmission.

“This is seen as a piece of the 5G ecosystem,” noted Roshak.

With NFV making its way into the ATSC 3.0 delivery architecture, the once long-lost promise of sending hybrid signals to smartphones is becoming a reality. Adoption may be helped by the fact mobile players are not restricted to the same regulations and business models as the broadcast market, with the latest hurdle being that FCC is demanding TV stations pay 5% of any ATSC 3.0 service revenues, because NextGen TV services qualify as “ancillary or supplementary services”.

Vendor expertise for the project came from Broadpeak, the French multicast ABR pioneer, alongside Enensys Technologies for virtualized architectures, Alticast for middleware, and Bitrouter for the ATSC 3.0 receiver software stack. Microsoft Azure is the cloud infrastructure partner.

The next step will be to test a demo home gateway, before ‘dog food trials’ commence before the end of this year. Then, sometime in 2021, the first commercial deployment will land.