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Cable Tech

ATSC 3.0 reaches the smartphone

ATSC 3.0, a new broadcast signaling standard branded as "NextGenTV," is starting to break away from the TV screen and gain its first foothold on the smartphone.

One Media 3.0, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting, said it has taken possession of its first handful of Android smartphones with embedded ATSC 3.0 antennas. This initial batch of devices – branded as the Mark One, and unlocked to run on the T-Mobile and AT&T mobile networks – are not production-grade products but are instead considered evaluation units tagged for trials and tests.

The Mark One is billed as the first smartphone to embed support for the next-gen ATSC 3.0 broadcast signaling standard.
The Mark One is billed as the first smartphone to embed support for the next-gen ATSC 3.0 broadcast signaling standard.

Delivery of these first phones was delayed due to supply chain issues wrought by the pandemic. One Media's first run of ATSC 3.0-capable smartphones were made by Borqs, an original equipment manufacturer based in India. The Mark One is powered in part by a new SDR (software-defined radio) chipset from Saankhya Labs, another India-based company whose chip operation in Bangalore just happens to be right near Borqs.

One Media expects to receive "several hundred units" for a broader set of tests this November or December, according to Mark Aitken, president of One Media 3.0 and SVP of advanced technology for Sinclair.

The new phones, effectively reference designs, are surfacing as US broadcasters push ahead with deployments of ATSC 3.0, a new, IP-based broadcast signaling standard that enables advancements such as 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, live TV and video-on-demand, new forms of OTT-delivered streaming services from broadcasters, targeted and interactive advertising and new emergency alerting capabilities. Meanwhile, Evoca, a video startup, is using a mix of ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 technologies to power a new multichannel pay-TV service that recently debuted in Boise, Idaho.

While ATSC 3.0 will target TVs, One Media's work in the smartphone area speaks to the mobile use-cases of the new standard. Some of the initial work with the Mark One will focus on new emergency alerting capabilities.

"We see that as a good political lever, if you will, to getting acceptance of chips in phones," Aitken said. "But we tackled [the smartphone] because we really see it as a kind of device that provides support for multiple use cases. A phone, as fairly difficult as it was, satisfied the largest set of possibilities to demonstrate business models."

Delivering broadcast TV in an IP format to the phone is among the potential use cases. "The Internet has never had a broadcast mode," Aitken said. "This standard can play a significant role as a broadcast standard, fully integrated into a hybrid Internet model."

As an IP technology, ATSC 3.0 is designed to deliver streaming video and other kinds of apps and services to a wide range of device-types, including smartphones. The Mark One speaks to ATSC 3.0's mobile use-case.
As an IP technology, ATSC 3.0 is designed to deliver streaming video and other kinds of apps and services to a wide range of device-types, including smartphones. The Mark One speaks to ATSC 3.0's mobile use-case.

One Media ran point on the development of the first ATSC 3.0-capable smartphones. Although it doesn't expect to go into the phone business it does expect to form additional relationships with OEMs to make the phones now that there's a reference design.

MVNO talks

Aitken said One Media is in "steady discussions" with two yet unnamed US MVNOs about the distribution of ATSC 3.0-capable "broadcast feature phones" that could help them retain customers while also offering something new in the market.

"One of the opportunities with an MVNO is that you don't need a national platform for them to sell a feature," he said. "For them, the idea of having the availability of live streaming services becomes a feature … that your big players don't necessarily offer."

A recent example is T-Mobile's new TVision streaming service, with an initial focus on its postpaid mobile subscriber base. However, T-Mobile's new offering is a subscription service, not one focused on the delivery of technically free local broadcast channels.

Aitken said One Media is also talking with two "very large volume Internet presences" to distribute phones through them, but likewise isn't at liberty to name them. "We could be a huge part of the marketing side of phones associated with services," he added.

Desire to ride the 5G wave

One Media's initial phones took on the difficult technical task of embedding an ATSC 3.0 antenna. But the initial design could pave the way for products that could be mass-produced and possibly get unit costs in the neighborhood of $150 for mid-level smartphones equipped with ATSC 3.0 componentry.

Tied in, One Media and US broadcasters are also working on ways to alter the topology of the broadcast network to ensure uniformity in coverage that big towers might not provide in all instances and in all venues. Aitken believes that there could be opportunities for small ATSC 3.0-based transmitters to be deployed alongside 5G network buildouts and help to flesh out the reach of a new IP-based distribution network.

"If you want to serve all of the way out to the edge of the contour you've been given for service by the FCC, you've got to fill it in," Aitken said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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