Washington D.C. to Receive Free Mobile TV

Later this summer, customers in the greater Washington, D.C. area will be able to take advantage of free digital TV broadcasts designed for viewing on mobile devices like cell phones, laptop computers, and in-car entertainment systems. Washington, D.C. and the surrounding metro area will become the first U.S. metro region to receive the free ATSC-M/H mobile TV broadcasts. ATSC-M/H is a version of the current ATSC digital television standard that will allow for mobile-formatted digital TV broadcasts to be made in parallel with existing DTV transmissions.

Initially, the broadcasts will be identical to those beamed to TV sets, including advertising. Special receivers are needed to receive the new signals. At this point, it’s unclear which devices will be available with those receivers, but cell phones are certainly obvious candidates. Unfortunately, wireless carriers have shown no interest in the technology, perhaps because Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T currently offer their own pay-TV services. For now, this may mean that devices such as DVD players, in-car screens, and laptops are more likely candidates for the technology.

Dell plans to show a prototype of a small laptop with a built-in mobile DTV receiver at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas this week. LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics have also shown support for the technology. Kenwood is developing car-based receivers. The companies backing the new mobile DTV technology are part of the Open Mobile Video Coalition. Although hardware distribution deals are still being worked out, an Open Mobile Video Coalition spokesperson said it is possible customers may be able to sign up to receive test hardware, potentially including tuners for laptops and cars.

Broadcasts from six D.C.-area stations—WPXW (Ion), WUSA (ABC), WDCA (Fox), WRC (NBC), WNUV (the CW), and WHUT (PBS)—will bring "a thorough test of content, services, and features" to D.C.-area consumers by late summer, the Open Mobile Video Coalition said. The ABC, Fox, PBS, Ion and NBC channels primarily broadcast to Washington, D.C. The CW channel is based in Baltimore.

Broadcasters plan to add broadcasts in additional cities by the end of the year, covering 39% of U.S. households. In all, seventy stations in twenty-eight markets have committed to launching Mobile DTV later this year according to the Open Mobile Video Coalition. This includes all ION TV stations; NBC affiliates in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Seattle, and Orlando; ABC stations in Orlando, Atlanta, Seattle, Detroit, Charlotte, and Baltimore; FOX stations in Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami, and many other stations, including many PBS stations nationwide.

It’s been reported that Washington was chosen as the first test market because the city has plenty of tech-savvy viewers who pay attention to local news. In addition, since the Open Mobile Video Coalition has pointed to the usefulness of free mobile TV broadcasts in the case of emergencies and natural disasters, attention from politicians and regulators may have also played a factor in determining the test location.

Tags:  DTV, mobile TV