Image courtesy of Eugenia Loli Flickr

Network Antenna Sends Broadcast Television to Mobile Devices

May 10, 2016
LG Electronics built a wireless antenna that sends high-definition broadcast signals into smart televisions, smartphones, and other connected devices using Wi-Fi.

Over the years, televisions have slowly evolved from bales of analog electronics into sleek digital devices. Television broadcast antennas, on the other hand, have seen little innovation. Now, LG Electronics has built a wireless antenna that sends high-definition broadcast signals into smart televisions, smartphones, and other connected devices around the home.

The network antenna, which was revealed at the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention, is designed to process television broadcasts and distribute them around the home using Wi-Fi. The antenna employs a network interface to connect with Wi-Fi routers, sending digital television and internet services over the same path.

The company said in a statement that the antenna was built from directional antenna arrays with electronic steering logic, which points wireless signals directly at connected devices to improve reception. In addition, the antenna can be placed anywhere in the user’s house unlike traditional broadcast antennas, which have to be bolted onto the roof.

The antenna has spent nearly two years in research and development at LG’s Zenith laboratory, the company said. Inside the antenna is a specialized chip that tunes and demodulates signals based on ATSC 3.0, a digital television standard that provides increased data rates for high-definition television, as well as streaming services like Hulu and Netflix.

ATSC 3.0 is being developed by the Advanced Television Systems Commission in an effort to send television broadcasts like local news programs to mobile devices, set-top boxes, and laptops. The previous generation of the standard, ATSC 1.0, has been used in the United States since 2009, when digital television began to replace analog on the 6 GHz band. The new standard is currently being tested by television stations in Washington, Baltimore, and Cleveland.

The new standard not only provides better video compression and the ability to store information within television and mobile devices, but could also give broadcasters a toolkit similar to those of tech companies like Amazon and Google. ATSC 3.0 will give stations access to data that has helped Google and others provide analytics and advertising services on the web. They would be able to connect with viewers in new ways, including audience measurement, targeted advertising, enhanced programming guides, and streaming services.

LG Electronics, which makes smart televisions and set-top boxes, has invested heavily in the ATSC 3.0 standard, especially as technology companies like Amazon and Apple fight to gain footholds in television. These companies were among the supporters for the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) recent proposal to open the market for cable set-top boxes. The agency proposed to permit cable subscribers to buy devices, like Apple TV or LG smart televisions, to view both cable programming and internet videos.

“Innovations like the LG smart network antenna will play an important role in accelerating the consumer adoption of ATSC 3.0 by enabling existing devices in the home and reducing the need for multiple converter boxes,” Anne Schelle, executive director for industry group Pearl TV, said in a statement. With today’s market dominated by large cable companies, people have to lease set-top boxes for cable and buy separate products to access the internet.

Companies that support ATSC 3.0 are trying to seamlessly combine broadcast and broadband services. One example of the benefits could be streaming a soccer game over broadcast with commentary in Spanish, with a separate audio stream in English being delivered via broadband. These kinds of features could become more important in the future, especially as sport leagues sign new streaming deals with social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.

ATSC 3.0 has the potential to lure more television stations into providing services that have been traditionally offered by wireless carriers. Broadcasters could transmit video to smartphones; ads to billboards; and emergency alerts to homes, cars, and other connected devices—all services that wireless carriers have been trying to make money from.

The irony is that the physical layer of the standard is based on the OFDM technology used by wireless carriers as the basis of 4G wireless networks. “There is significant commonality between delivery via broadcast and delivery via broadband,” the Advanced Television Systems Commission wrote in a blog post. 

LG’s network antenna shows the progress behind the ATSC 3.0 standard, but the technology is not expected to appear until at least 2018. South Korea and China have considered using the standard for broadcasts in the next few years. In the United States, many television stations and broadcasters are waiting until the FCC’s spectrum auction is finished to start thinking about the standard in more depth.

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