Is 2020 the year of next generation television with high-speed internet?

Is 2020 the year of next generation television with high-speed internet

US TV broadcasters and vendors as well as the FCC are now getting behind the latest US ‘Advanced Television Systems Committee’ (ATSC) standard, ATSC 3. This defines the way digital television can be transmitted over terrestrial, cable and satellite.

The FCC is promising to remove any regulatory issues which might stymie developments. It views the resulting services, if ATSC 3 is taken up by the broadcasters, as a way to provide Internet access to communities who currently do not have internet broadband, or for that matter, any broadband at all. This is a deficiency that’s been thrown into stark relief with the onset of the nationwide lockdown which has seen people (especially students now studying from home) being driven to Walmart or equivalent to access their Wi-Fi.

Champion of the standard within the FCC appears to be commissioner Brendan Carr who says, “broadcast Internet services are poised to offer a new and competitive broadband pipe… able to…  leverage the power and coverage of broadcast television spectrum to deliver high-speed, 25 Mbps Internet services.”  

However, the claim that ATSC 3.0 could deliver high-speed, 25 Mbps Internet services is stretching the boundaries of truth somewhat, but the FCC narrative is starting to change from.

The ATSC standards have been around since the early 1990s and have been amended to take advantage of improving picture encoding and resolution. By the time we get to ATSC 3, the technology can push much more data down the same sized channel, which means it can be used to flesh out the resolution of the picture and sound, or accommodate up to 6 other, lower resolution sub-channels broadcasting on the one 6MHz channel. 

The sub-channels could be that of other video streams (perhaps different views of the same action in a sports program) or they could be pumping through HTML pages which are related to the content on the main video channel, or a combination of both. For structured educational material, it is easy to see how this kind of of multimedia experience could work very well, however, as an interactive access service for the internet, it is not good enough. 

But the FCC and the industry have also found an opportunity for monetization. While ATSC 3 may offer a pretty sad approximation of a multidirectional broadband access pipe, it could almost certainly do some narrow datacoms applications that wireless data pipes, no matter their ‘G’, just could not.

Automotive applications offer the most tempting opportunities. The broadcast capability allied with the ubiquitous coverage that could be engineered if the broadcasters could cooperate, means that the systems could emit software upgrades or enrich map data as vehicles are on the move.