Fred Baumgartner is the former TV Product Manager for Nautel.

Fred started with AM in the 1970s, then FM, and now TV. Of all things in broadcasting, he loves transmission the most. He’s the guy with the 1954 1KW AM rig he’s slowly restoring for 160M Amateur operation; taking up the space normal people might have used for restoring a sports car. Fred loves a good idea, contemplating how to make this industry better, or an engineering puzzle.
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NAB 2016 – The Most Disruptive Year Continues

by Fred Baumgartner
Between repack and ATSC 3.0, the next few years are likely the most tempestuous in North American broadcast’s brief century. At first it seems that cramming the surviving TV stations into 17 UHF and 12 VHF slots after deleting 21 UHF slots is more than enough turmoil for any media.

nautel-tv-update-03-29-2016-ATSCIIIThen we have ATSC 3.0, one of those rare technologies where just about every stake holder has a big reason to move to the new platform. While it’s easy to get into the complex of technologies and features that ATSC 3.0 offers, it’s something else to realize that this profoundly changes the way broadcast works. Just when we thought RF distribution was a dinosaur, it may well become a key part in distributing broadcast media, even radio; without Content Distribution Networks, Internet Service Providers, walled gardens, throttling, or any of the horrors or expense of IP distribution. ATSC 3.0 makes broadcasters a part of the IP distribution world, a place where broadcasters become Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). ATSC 3.0 offers the broadcasters a means of bypassing the Multi-Channel Video Program Distributors (MVPDs) and IP network operators… a commanding place to be in the communications eco system.

Underground transmission lines feed Denver’s cooperative TV antenna tower’s complex of antennas on Look Out Mountain.

Underground transmission lines feed Denver’s cooperative TV antenna tower’s complex of antennas on Look Out Mountain.

It didn’t go without notice among some at NAB that the new TV might be a path for good old radio too. Here’s why. The ATSC 3.0 distribution network is built around an architecture where there is a main “boomer” transmitter that covers the audience area AND a single frequency network composed of smaller, close in, boosters that deal with the issues of penetrating urban centers, transportation corridors and tunnels, and venues. Getting a signal to where the audience lives, works and plays is difficult. It takes multiple transmitters and distributed antenna systems strategically located to blanket the desired high population density areas with RF. Right now, the MNOs are far better at this than broadcasters. Your cell phone works in many places your radio and TV does not.

FM typically has a 40-to-1 power/bandwidth advantage over low band VHF-TV. That’s why it works reasonably with an FM chip in a cell phone. But FM is low-band VHF. You need that kind of power advantage to penetrate buildings and reach small antennas at VHF. The analog part of FM doesn’t do single frequency networks well. An analog SFN will always have interference zones that at best can be cleverly located to best effect. OFDM, the modulation that digital FM and the new ATSC 3.0 are made of is different. OFDM is not a zero sum game… there are no cancellation zones, just addition zones.

The bottom line is, that to reach audiences where they live, a broadcaster needs to stream on the MNO’s distribution or re-do broadcasting technology so that SFNs can boost their coverage to match the MNOs reach. Radio doesn’t take much bandwidth compared to the TV, so one path is to ride along with the new TV distribution. Another approach is to make the jump from hybrid analog/digital transmission to all digital and all IP, just like ATSC 3.0 will do for TV.

The all IP piece is very important. It’s the piece that allows advanced advertising with its ability to target and return higher revenues. It unlocks the world of possibilities for radio broadcasters just as much as it does for TV.

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