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'Confusing Element'

LPTV Broadcasters Demonstrate ATSC 3.0 Alternative, Target Cellphones

Low-power broadcasters WWOO-LD Boston and XGen Network demonstrated an alternative to ATSC 3.0 in a livestream Wednesday by using 5G broadcast technology to send a television signal to a cellphone, airing a news broadcast and an emergency alert. WWOO is the only station broadcasting 5G in the U.S., and does so under an FCC experimental license. Though the tech is far behind ATSC 3.0 in implementation, it has been accepted by international cellular standards-making body 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and is expected to be receivable in next-generation mobile devices without additional hardware -- unlike 3.0, say 5G broadcast advocates. 3.0 “is a much more robust program right now,” but “we can get into cellphones,” said XGen CEO Frank Copsidas, who also heads the LPTV Broadcasters Association.

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5G broadcasting uses a broadcast TV signal that's receivable by mobile devices with a 5G chip, and uses technology built in line with the international 5G standards, said Copsidas. In the demonstration, the tech was used to transmit a WWOO feed of a news program to a television attached to a set-top box, and to send the same feed to a Qualcomm mobile phone. Qualcomm is also a partner in the project. Because of the tech’s use of the 3GPP standard, it “can easily be deployed on commercial broadcast networks available today in most parts of the world,” said Qualcomm Vice President-Technical Standards Lorenzo Casaccia on the livestream. “5G Broadcasting represents an exciting possible evolutionary path” for broadcasting, said FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington, also on the livestream. The FCC needs to provide “a regulatory path” for broadcasting that is “no longer solely grounded in primary video distribution,” Simington said.

Copsidas, who owns a station broadcasting in 3.0, said he’s focusing on 5G broadcasting because implementation of ATSC 3.0 has been too slow, too difficult and doesn’t target mobile devices. “I’ve been on a waitlist for two years” to receive One Media’s Mark One 3.0-ready cellphone, Copsidas said in an interview. “It took me 14 months to set up my [ATSC 3.0] station; it took us about 60 hours to set up the 5G,” Copsidas said. The ability to get a TV signal into cellphones, including emergency alerts and rich text data, are the main selling points for 5G broadcast over 3.0, he said. Copsidas also conceded 5G broadcast is in its “infancy.” Though many full-power broadcasters have fully committed to 3.0, 5G broadcast could be an opportunity for LPTV broadcasters that haven’t bought into 3.0 yet, 5G broadcast advocates said.

ATSC 3.0 advocates have largely been unsuccessful in getting the technology into U.S. cellphones, and announcements of the standard’s progress in consumer devices have mainly focused on televisions and TV accessories. At the 2019 NAB Show, then-NAB President Gordon Smith brought a cellphone on stage attached to an ATSC 3.0-enabling dongle and called on cellphone manufacturers to include 3.0 capable chips in phones (see 1904080066). Since then, however, the push for the 3.0 chip in phones has ceased being a major talking point of 3.0 boosters (see 1905300063) outside of Sinclair and subsidiary One Media, which created a 3.0 cellphone in 2020 and are working on mobile 3.0 tech in India.

5G broadcast is misleading marketing because the tech actually uses 4G LTE signals, said Mark Aitken, Sinclair Broadcast senior vice president-advanced technology, in an interview. The signal also isn’t receivable by current 5G devices, he said, which Copsidas has acknowledged. 5G broadcast has become “a confusing element” in the broadcast push for widespread adoption of ATSC 3.0, Aitken said. In a recent opinion column titled “Don’t Fall for the Hype on 5G Broadcast,” he and Jerald Fritz, One Media executive vice president-strategic and legal affairs, termed as "wishful thinking" the “implied notion that, because 5G Broadcast is a 3GPP standard and in phones today, it somehow magically opens the market to hundreds of millions of devices compatible with 5G wireless reception.” ATSC 3.0 is more adaptable and has more potential, and is also superior at transmitting video to mobile devices, Aitken said. “I don’t think Qualcomm agrees,” said Copsidas.

The ability to send broadcast signals to cellphones makes 5G broadcast ideal for the future of emergency alerting, Copsidas said. His emergency alerting selling points for the technology echo those often used by 3.0 advocates, including the ability to send rich data about an emergency situation to first responders. Copsidas acknowledged the similarity but said the ability to transmit to a mobile phone is the most important difference. Asked about 5G broadcast alerting, Advanced Warning and Response Network Alliance Executive Director John Lawson said "Emergency alerting is always an 'and' proposition, not 'but.'" Advanced alerting advocates still need the FCC to "convene a multistakeholder initiative of industries and agencies to create a voluntary road map for a major upgrade to America’s emergency alerting systems," he said.

WWOO is broadcasting 5G on an experimental license issued by the FCC in July. Copsidas said on the livestream Wednesday that he expects to be ready to roll out 5G broadcast to consumers in a year but first needs to provide a proof of concept to the FCC to show that the service works. It's not clear whether a broadcaster would need additional authorization from the agency to broadcast in 5G as its primary signal, Wilkinson Barker broadcast attorney Davina Sashkin, who represents XGen, told us. The agency hasn’t weighed in on those questions while the tech is still in the testing stage, she said.