Key partners include LG Electronics and its U.S. R&D subsidiary, Zenith, which will develop handheld mobile DTV devices to receive the new alerts and will provide funding for the project.
PBS Next-Gen EAS Pilot To Use Mobile DTV
Beginning later this year, PBS will initiate testing on a next-generation emergency alert system, which is designed to deliver multimedia alerts using video, audio, text, and graphics to cellphones, tablets, laptops and netbooks, as well as in-car navigation systems.
Building on the flexibility of the ATSC Mobile Digital TV broadcast standard, the PBS pilot project will test capabilities designed to lead to a comprehensive new Mobile Emergency Alert System (MEAS), part of the first major overhaul of the nation’s aging Emergency Alert System (EAS) since the Cold War. PBS Chief Technology Officer John McCoskey will announce the pilot project today at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
“As a leader in digital-only broadcasting, PBS has been involved in testing digital broadcasting as a part of an upgraded emergency system since 2005,” McCoskey said in a statement. “Now that the transition to digital is complete and mobile DTV is rolling out, PBS will harness mobile DTV’s powerful distribution system to provide new means of alerting Americans in the event of an emergency.”
PBS has identified key partners to support the landmark pilot project, including LG Electronics Inc. and its U.S. R&D subsidiary, Zenith, which will develop handheld mobile DTV devices to receive the new alerts and will provide funding for the project. Also working with PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is providing matching grants to local public television stations for Mobile DTV broadcasting equipment. PBS plans to announce stations for the pilot project in the near future.
PBS’ multimedia mobile DTV pilot project will use terrestrial broadcasting instead of cellular network connectivity, complementing the current cellular-based system PBS is deploying with the support of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration and with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This system transmits 90-character emergency text messages to commercial mobile carriers.
“We have always seen enormous public service potential in DTV broadcasting,” said LG Electronics’ Dr. Jong Kim, president of the Zenith R&D Lab in Lincolnshire, Ill. “LG is proud to support the important work of PBS, which will show mobile EAS as a powerful new example of public-service DTV broadcasting.”
Together with the LG Convergence Lab, Zenith engineers who helped create the current digital TV broadcast standards in North America, including the mobile DTV system, will collaborate with the PBS technology team on the pilot project.
John Lawson, executive director of the Mobile500 Alliance, said, “We applaud the PBS pilot project. The Mobile500 Alliance of 45 commercial and public broadcast organizations adopted a Statement of Principles in January for the new Mobile DTV industry. Providing a next-generation emergency alert system was one of our core commitments, and we will be watching the PBS pilot very closely as a possible model for the whole television industry.”
PBS also plans to work closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FCC and other agencies in devising and implementing the pilot project.
“We want to create a mechanism that can be easily replicated, allowing any broadcaster to send emergency information that is CAP-compliant, that is integrated into the IPAWS system, and that can reliably reach on-the-go Americans in the ways they access other information today,” added McCoskey.
U.S. broadcasters are currently launching their version of mobile DTV, based on the ATSC A/153 Standard. Japan’s mobile television system, 1-SEG, provided a lifeline for many Japanese citizens during the recent disasters when cellphone networks crashed and power went out.
PBS says using mobile DTV to send emergency alerts will significantly enhance the capabilities of the current tone and test EAS announcements familiar to most Americans. First, the message delivery is free of any bandwidth bottlenecks that would overload a cellular system. Broadcasting is an inherently one-to-many transmission system, meaning that millions of receiving devices will receive the alert simultaneously just as easily as a single device. Second, the broadcast architecture allows transmission of alert messages with video, photos, graphics (such as evacuation routes), text and audio. With its capability to provide many types of media, mobile DTV will extend the reach of emergency messages to people with disabilities and non-English speaking audiences.
The central goal of the PBS emergency alert pilot project, PBS says, “is to prove the viability and unparalleled potential of using mobile DTV to distribute emergency messages.” Over the course of the year-long pilot project, the mobile DTV emergency alert system will be evaluated using a number of factors, including technology, implementation costs, possible cost-sharing models, the usability of such a service versus other technologies, acceptance by the public and emergency messaging managers, and expectations of future needs and system growth.
The new alerting application to be developed through the pilot project will capitalize on existing standards for implementation. The U.S. broadcast standard for mobile television, the ATSC A/153 Mobile DTV Standard, uses Internet Protocol (IP) at its core. The use of IP allows the new application to be flexible and extensible. Data delivery, non-real-time delivery, and electronic service guides are all included. Since the 9/11 attacks, federal agencies and both the Bush and Obama administrations have adopted polices to upgrade the nation’s communications capability to respond to man-made and natural disasters. President Bush signed an executive order creating an Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). President Obama has called for a new public safety communications system for 21st Century America. The U.S. also has adopted the international Common Alerting Protocol for the way messages are structured.