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Distribution & Delivery Global Viewpoint – January 2018

ATSC 3.0 vs 5G – The Race is On

Of all the newer delivery technologies, 5G is likely to offer the strongest competition to the world’s free, over-the-air (OTA) broadcast model. Planned 5G services may offer multiple content streams, 4K, support for new video standards, mobile reception and on multiple devices. Here is how I think the new ATSC 3.0 standard stacks up against this competitor.

Traditionally most entertainment was delivered to the home either by RF, over the air, or wire/fiber, via cable. While OTA is a free service, and has benefited from increased cord cutting, it remains the source of only about 15-percent of the nation’s television viewers according to Parks Associates. The majority of TV viewers rely on pay-TV providers or internet-delivered streaming services, or a combination.

“With the continued decline of traditional pay-TV subscriptions, 2017 will be characterized by the rise of online pay-TV services,” according to Brett Sappington, Senior Director of Research at Parks Associates. “While traditional pay TV provides superior viewing quality, OTT video commonly excels in discovery, portability, and personalized user experiences. Consumers care less about the network used to deliver the content than they do about access to the content, ease of use, and convenience.

The aim of cord cutting often is to disconnect from a cable or satellite provider without giving up access to desired programming.As it exists today, cord cutting typically involves the use of free OTA reception supplemented with subscription-based services from online content providers like Hulu or Netflix.

One might ask, is all this effort by viewers to bypass the cable and satellite providers just to save money? Sometimes.

Yet none of the OTT or streaming services are possible without a sufficiently fast internet service, which costs from $50 to $100 per month. And what vendors provide that internet service? Most often home internet is supplied by the local cable company. But, what if even that ‘cable’ could be cut?

Some of the predicted benefits of 5G technology. Click to enlarge. Image Orange.

Some of the predicted benefits of 5G technology. Click to enlarge. Image Orange.

The New Competitor: 5G

This leads us to 5G. Many pontificators claim that 5G technology represents the next generation of over-the-air mobile communication and entertainment delivery technology. Some believe that 5G can also solve the last mile delivery challenge as copper and fiber are replaced by RF delivery in many suburban settings. It’s no longer Google Fiber, but maybe Google RF.

5G technology is being proffered as an evolving standard that can support much wider delivery channels, each unique to the customer—the unicast model. ATSC 3.0 initially remains a multi-cast model.

Realize broadcasters control only one half of the delivery business model, transmission. The consumer electronics industry controls the other half—television and reception device technology. Without new receivers, ATSC 3.0 goes nowhere.

It is key to understand that 5G is not primarily a cell phone technology. In a March, 2017 PC magazine article, the writer describes his experience with 5G internet delivery. “A third of Americans have only one option for high-speed home Internet, and they pay through the nose for it. Most of us don't know how badly we have it. At home in New York City, I personally pay $65/month for 70Mbps down with Spectrum Cable. Here in Barcelona, 200Mbps from Jazztel costs 18 euros (about $21) per month. According to a report commissioned for the Canadian government, Americans pay by far the most for broadband of seven countries surveyed, and those include big, sparsely populated Canada and Australia.”

The article continues by describing a Verizon test that delivered internet over pre-5G gigabit service. This means a gigabit at the cell's edge. If the modem/receiver is close to the cell transmitter, customers may get several gigabits per second. A Samsung demo modem provided a 4Gbps output in the test.

Both Verizon and AT&T have pledged to deliver pre-5G to a few U.S. cities by midyear, with wider distribution beginning in 2019.

While speed is the first most-mentioned benefit of 5G, other advantages include smaller antennas, lower battery consumption for devices, all of which enable its connectivity to tens of billions of devices. Image: CNET

While speed is the first most-mentioned benefit of 5G, other advantages include smaller antennas, lower battery consumption for devices, all of which enable its connectivity to tens of billions of devices. Image: CNET

A Team Challenge

For ATSC 3.0 to succeed, broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers have to proactively invest in its future and provide a reason for consumers to buy the products. For more information on ATSC 3.0 adoption, see these articles;

ATSC 3.0—If You Build It, Will They Come?, and For Many Stations, Moving To ATSC 3.0 Is Not An Easy Decision To Make.

What about cord cutting?

Cutting the cord was an initiative to move away from bundled programming and permit any viewer to watch what they wanted, when they wanted and on whatever device they wanted. But in reality, the cutting the cord question is which cord is being cut? If it’s the cable cord and all programs are available online, then how are you getting Internet - OTT? Today, OTT is delivered by the cable provider and OTA is programming from a broadcaster.

It seems to me that the definition of Over-the-Air is not as simple any more as plain old broadcast. ATSC 3.0 vs 5G for program delivery will be an interesting competition! One could ask, Is this a race of different technologies for content delivery? If so, then I am not sure on which to put my money.

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