“Given the stakes, I’m sure we’ll see both collaboration between the phone companies and broadcasters and head-to-head competition,” says Rick Ducey, managing director, BIA Advisory Services. And some broadcasters view 5G’s rollout — and the potential investment of the phone companies in broadcast capabilities of their own — as a potential opportunity for the traditional big-stick broadcasters.
New technologies that the wireless telephone and broadcast TV industries are expected to roll out over the next several years will enhance the ability of each to get into some of the traditional businesses of the other — and a key question is whether their new powers will encourage them to be friends, foes or a bit of both.
The broadcast industry’s new empowerment is coming in the form of ATSC 3.0, the Next Gen TV standard that the FCC authorized the industry to start rolling out on a voluntary basis late last year.
3.0 not only promises to allow broadcasters to try to entice viewers with prettier pictures and sweeter sound, but also could clear the way for them to transmit a variety of data services over the airwaves at the same time they are shooting out their TV programs.
The wireless industry’s answer to ATSC 3.0 is 5G, a new technology that promises to provide dramatically faster data speeds and transmission capacity, clearing the way for the provision of new services, including a wireless version of broadcasting.
“Given the stakes, I’m sure we’ll see both collaboration between the phone companies and broadcasters and head-to-head competition,” says Rick Ducey, managing director, BIA Advisory Services, a broadcasting industry consultant.
“We think ATSC 3.0 could become part of a 5G ecosystem,” says Mark Richer, president of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, the U.S.-based organization that developed 3.0. “The flip side is true also, that 5G networks could become part of the broadcast television system.”
At least as far as key broadcast industry sources are concerned, 3.0 has the advantage over 5G, at least when it comes to broadcasting simultaneously and instantaneously to millions of people.
“ATSC 3.0 has been optimized for broadcast delivery, so we believe technically it’s going to be superior to the systems that exist for the 5G world, for broadcast mode specifically,” adds ATSC’s Richer.
“Can it work?“ asks Mark Aitken, Sinclair Broadcast Group VP of advanced technology, of the 5G broadcasting concept. “Sure. Can it work as well as a ‘designed for mobile broadcast/mobile-first’ broadcast standard? No, not even close.”
The concept of 5G completely replacing broadcasting “is not something we’re worried about,” says Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “And there’s no good reason to suggest replacing existing broadcast architecture with cellular architecture.”
But others are not so dismissive. “If telcos running 5G networks can provide UHD-TV and other services that ATSC 3.0 broadcasters can do, and provide competitive programming and other services similar to what broadcasters do in terms of program quality, signal quality, popularity, diversity of services, pricing, etc., then yes — it’s a competitive threat to broadcasters,” says BIA’s Ducey.
Qualcomm Technologies, a long-time proponent of wireless TV, refuses to concede 5G TV’s inferiority.
“The [wireless broadcast] technology is certainly there, and it will be available,” says Danny Tseng, Qualcomm staff manager, technical marketing. “It’s a matter of adoption. With any new technology rollout, it’s going to take time, and I guess we’ll see what ends up winning.”
According to Tseng, 5G has a clear advantage over 3.0 when it comes to enabling users to interact with content efficiently.
“Because you’re using the same network for your regular cellular service and your broadcasting service, there are things that you can do on 5G … that you certainly cannot do on ATSC,“ Tseng claims.
The ability of wireless companies to broadcast one-to-many TV service over their cell networks is not new, and it has always fallen short of some of its hype.
LTE Broadcast, an earlier iteration of wireless broadcasting, has yet to gain traction in the U.S., and Qualcomm pulled the plug on its own wireless TV venture, Flo TV, in 2011.
According to 5G TV proponents, the prospects for the technology should improve in the wake of tweaks to the current generation of 4G/LTE technology that were adopted last June, and the new standards for 5G TV that are anticipated to be in place by the end of next year.
The new wireless broadcast standards already on the books — and the ones to come for 5G — represent a “major revamp” of the technology, said Qualcomm’s Tseng.
Qualcomm is leading the effort to fine-tune the 5G TV standard for the Third Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP, the France-based organization developing the 5G standard.
“This time, 3GPP took on a system approach to address what broadcasters need, and not just define the standards to cover the air interface requirements,” says Tseng.
Some broadcast sources view 5G’s rollout — and the potential investment of the phone companies in broadcast capabilities of their own — as a potential opportunity for the traditional big-stick broadcasters.
Broadcasters, for instance, could use the phone company 5G networks — along with the broadcasting industry’s own single frequency networks — to extend and fill in their coverage, says BIA’s Ducey.
“This is not so much a competition, but an avenue to open up new opportunities for broadcasters to reach larger audiences and also to expand mobile operators’ role in broadcasting linear TV,” adds Qualcomm’s Tseng.
Both ATSC’s Richer and BIA’s Ducey say that discussions about possible cooperation between broadcasters, phone companies and other ATSC 3.0 and 5G stakeholders are already ongoing.
Richer said that ATSC is setting up a new planning team to explore how 3.0 can be used to provide new automotive data applications, either as an alternative or complement to 5G.
ATSC is also planning to host a conference in India in November “on convergence and hybrid applications for broadband and broadcast,” Richer says.
“Bottom line, there’s still work to be done on both the ATSC 3.0 and 5G sides of the equation,” Ducey says.
At least thus far, more interest in 5G broadcasting is being expressed in Europe than in the U.S., according to Tseng.
Qualcomm and Nokia demonstrated the new TV technology in Finland earlier this year with the support of Finnish broadcasters MTV and Yle, Tseng says.
Five companies have either launched or deployed at least limited-scale LTE Broadcast operations globally, while 41 companies have either tested or are otherwise investing in LTE Broadcast systems, according to a September 2018 report by the Global Mobile Suppliers Association.
The five companies that have either launched or deployed the systems, according to the report: Telstra, Australia; China Unicom, China; Reliance Jio, India; KT Corp., Korea; and Verizon Wireless, U.S.
The report also says that AT&T Mobility is deploying LTE Broadcast in the U.S.
Despite the report, John O’Malley, a Verizon Wireless spokesman, told TVNewsCheck that 5G broadcasting is not something Verizon is “looking at.”
Verizon recently announced its rollout of a 5G service to homes intended to give “consumers an alternative to their local cable company for high-speed broadband service,” O’Malley says. “That’s what we’re focused on.”
At deadline, AT&T representatives had not responded to numerous inquiries about the company’s interest in 5G broadcasting.