Earlier this year, much ado was made over the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. So controversial was the switchover that Congress delayed the transition from February until June to give consumers more time to upgrade their equipment. Among the myriad benefits touted by proponents of the switch was the promise of new services and added content. While few of the promises have been met, the recent approval of a standard for mobile television is a step in the right direction.
On October 15, the organization that sets standards for television broadcasts in the United States, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), approved a standard for mobile digital television broadcasts (mobile DTV). With approval of the standard, manufacturers can begin to produce devices capable of receiving digital channels broadcast by local television stations. Dell intends to produce a netbook with built-in mobile DTV support, while LG has plans to produce a small, portable television. As for content, some 30 channels involved in testing the standard are broadcasting mobile signals currently, with another 20 expected by year end. This early support for mobile DTV is a positive sign that some broadcasters are interested in the advanced services possible with digital television broadcasts.
One of the more promising aspects of mobile DTV is integration with mobile phones. Currently, some mobile carriers offer video services, but most options are limited to sports highlights and other abbreviated video content. For a variety of reasons, including the extreme bandwidth needed to stream video of any quality, mobile carriers have resisted expanding their video services for fear of overloading their cellular networks (AT&T is grappling with this concern in response to the iPhone 3GS). With a mobile DTV standard, however, carriers can offer streaming video without any impact on their data networks. Rather than being limited to clips, one could watch entire television shows broadcast by the major networks. By moving mobile TV off of the cellular networks, proponents of digital television broadcasting can point to one victory in the digital transition.
Regardless of what services and equipment result from the ATSC’s approval of a mobile DTV standard, the fact that a standard was approved rapidly and broadcasters are already broadcasting content clearly illustrates their interest in this new delivery medium, even if many broadcasters have failed to take advantage of the other benefits to digital transmission.