ATSC 3.0 Could Enhance Emergency Communications, NAB Summit Told

Monty Tayloe | Consumer Electronics Daily | Thursday, November 19, 2015
irstNet CEO Michael Poth

FirstNet CEO Michael Poth

 

Moving to the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard would provide enhanced emergency communications to the public and first responders, the need for which was underscored by the recent terrorist attacks on Paris, said numerous speakers at the NAB-sponsored Smart Spectrum Summit Wednesday. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., and FirstNet CEO Michael Poth—both former police officers—said first responders need dependable, fast communications that include data and video.

Since ATSC 3.0 would allow broadcasters to send data over their signal and broadcasting is less fragile than cellular networks, it’s ideal for providing that capability, said NAB Chief Technology Officer Sam Matheny and others, including Triveni Digital Chief Science Officer Rich Chernock, chairman of ATSC’s Technology Group 3, which is framing ATSC 3.0 specifications. Innovations from the new standard could also be used to address “deficiencies” in the current system for alerting the public to emergencies, said Carson.

Geo-targeted alerts, a two-way stream of information with the public, and the ability to send “rich media” such as maps or graphics are the most important improvements the new standard could bring to emergency alerting, said Chris Anderson, chief of FCC Public Safety Bureau Operations and Emergency Management Division. Geo-targeted alerts would allow important tornado warnings and similar alerts to be sent specifically to areas in the disaster’s path, while regions in less danger could receive a more general warning. This kind of specificity could combat the “numbing” effect that leads to emergency alert system alerts being frequently ignored today, said Anderson.

Since ATSC 3.0 will allow data to be sent in the background while the normal broadcast stream con- tinues, emergency alerts could contain maps of evacuation routes or other data along with the emergency crawl, accessible at the viewer’s discretion, Matheny said. Under ATSC 3.0., emergency alerts could be sent that would “wake up” a dormant TV to inform viewers about an impending emergency, he said.

Emergency communications based on broadcasting or “one to many networks” are more resilient than cellular signals, said speakers. High volumes of phone and data use during emergencies made cellular use impossible during Superstorm Sandy and the Sept. 11 attacks, said LG Electronics ATSC 3.0 consultant Madeleine Noland, Chernock and several others. Broadcasters were able to transmit, and that would carry over to emergency communications under ATSC 3.0, Chernock said. TV broadcasters have “hardened” facilities with backup power, and aren’t affected by high volume, Chernock said. “Sending a broadcast to 1,000 people or 2 million people is no different to a broadcaster.”

Broadcasters need to keep that resiliency and consider security as their medium converges with other communications technology, Anderson said. “All the capability in the world won’t do us any good if adversaries or Mother Nature can take it away from us.” Interconnected agencies and technology shouldn’t be allowed to introduce vulnerabilities, he said.

Carson said he wants to be an “ally” to help broadcasters get to ATSC 3.0. He asked attendees how he could help “open lines of communication” with legislators. After Paris, Congress is going to be espe- cially attentive to proposals that would improve security, public safety and emergency response, he said. Broadcasting could be involved in those efforts, he said. “Just give us our marching orders.”

Speakers spoke as though ATSC 3.0 adoption and FCC approval weren’t in question, pointed out One Media Executive Vice President-Strategic and Legal Affairs Jerald Fritz. “We’re very excited that ATSC 3.0 appears inevitable.” Broadcasters will be able to buy transmitters that can broadcast in both the current 1.0 standard and ATSC 3.0 in the spring, said PearlTV Managing Director Anne Schelle. The new standard’s physical layer should be ready to bring to the FCC soon, Schelle said, though she said broadcasters would be “very respectful” of the incentive auction. “If the auction is not successful, it could slow down the transition,” she said.

Wells Fargo Analyst Marci Ryvicker said until ATSC 3.0 has a more established timeline, it’s difficult to quantify its effects on broadcast investment. She said money managers increasingly view broadcasting as a safe place for investment.

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