After this week’s news that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had granted special temporary authority (STA) for a broadcast TV station to trial 5G broadcasting, we got a little more detail.

Bill Christian, who filed the application for STA, said that the city-of-license for the STA is in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, but the station that will be conducting the 5G broadcasting trial is WWOO-LD in Boston.

American broadcasters use the UHF frequencies. And the wireless standards group 3GPP is in the process of adding UHF to its list of approved frequencies at Band 108. But in the meantime, WWOO is free to trial 5G broadcasting in UHF.

Christian said there are currently no devices that are equipped to receive 5G broadcast signals in UHF. So, the trial will use special 5G devices that Qualcomm produced specifically for the proof of concept. 

“This whole thing is really to see that 5G can work in this UHF TV band,” said Christian.

Another stakeholder interested in 5G broadcasting is SuperFrank Copsidas, who is president and founder of the LPTV Broadcasters Association. “SuperFrank,” which is Copsidas’ brand name, owns 10 low power TV (LPTV) stations in the U.S.

He explained that since existing 5G smartphones are not yet configured to receive UHF frequencies, Qualcomm has modified phones to filter in the frequencies. “They modified the software to pick up the channels,” said Copsidas.

Christian and Copsidas said the upcoming trial at the Boston LPTV station will focus on two things. The first is to verify that a video stream in the UHF spectrum can be received by a device with a 5G chip. And the second is to work with some first responders to test an encrypted video stream.

First responders could benefit from video feeds that would show things such as police car chases or drone footage from hurricane damage.

Why are broadcasters interested?

Broadcasters don’t own their own spectrum. The FCC grants them licenses that must be renewed periodically. But Christian said 5G broadcasting technology could help broadcasters maximize the spectrum they have access to.

“It allows us to do stuff we can’t do now,” he said.

Besides helping first responders, 5G broadcasting could also alleviate congestion of wireless networks during live sporting events when people are trying to watch the game on their phones. Mobile networks, which use one-to-one transmissions, can become overwhelmed when there are thousands of users trying to watch the same thing. But broadcast is a one-to-many transmission technology, which can handle the traffic.

But in terms of how 5G broadcasters would make money, neither Christian nor Copsidas was ready to get into specifics.

“This is such a new platform that we have a lot of ideas, but right now we have to stick to the proof of concept,” said Copsidas. “Walk not run.”

Asked if wireless carriers are concerned about competitors from 5G broadcasting, Christian said, “We think this will be beneficial to everybody. We don’t see those groups in competition.”

He said 5G broadcasting could ease congestion on wireless networks, and there are “different ways people could work together,” although it’s still extremely early days.

ATSC 3.0

The concept of 5G broadcasting is not the first idea that broadcasters have had in terms of doing more innovative things with their spectrum.

While the 5G broadcasting trial is being conducted by a low power TV station, full power TV broadcasters are migrating to a new technology called ATSC 3.0 — commercially known as NEXTGEN TV.

ATSC 3.0 will provide several benefits. It will allow broadcasters to increase the number of channels on a broadcast stick. Instead of having 4-5 channels, such as 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 etc., they might be able to have 9 or 10 channels on a stick. In addition ATSC 3.0 will allow them to introduce elements of interactive TV into their broadcasts and provide the ability to target emergency alerts. “We really like 3.0,” said Christian. “The only downside is it can’t be picked up on mobile devices.”

Asked if full power TV stations are interested in 5G broadcasting, Copsidas said he didn’t know. The whole thing is still in early days.

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