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Is NexGenTV the biggest missed television opportunity in India?

On 9th Oct 9, 2021, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting announced the closure of all but 50 Analog analog TV transmitters in its vast network spanning the length and breadth of India. At the same time, it announced that Prasar Bharati had entered into an MoU with IIT Kanpur, to develop a “next- gen broadcast solution” and a roadmap for digital terrestrial television. It was a surprising decision as India has already adopted the DVB-T2 standard for digital TV and multiple DVB-T2 trials had already been conducted. 

So, what is it that the ministry could be looking at in terms of the NexGenTV Solution from IIT Kanpur? Creation of new standards is of course not a trivial exercise, and globally standards for NexGenTV have been available, though not as European standards. In fact, at about the same time, in USA, ATSC 3.0 labelled as “NexGenTV” had crossed over 100 television stations in USA the broadcasting streams of IP- based content. Armed with new technologies, which provide a mix of  broadcast (OTA) and broadband (OTT), the system is the first to use an IP transport rather than MPEG transport stream, unleashing new capabilities. 

 It was even more surprising that the previous recommendations by the TRAI to open up terrestrial broadcasting as well as mobile broadcasting to the private sector had not been acted upon, nor the sector consulted upon whether they could deliver NexGenTV, should the opportunity be given to them.

NexGenTV –- New capabilities
NexGenTV is not just a the replacement of a traditional broadcast System system ( ATSC 1.0 in USA) but provides capabilities, such as enhanced encoding, which helps carry UHD or 4K with image enhancement using HDR, high frame rate ( HFR) and MPEG-H compatible Dolby Atmos. Being capable to of reaching a multitude of devices, including tablets and mobile phones, it also provides for the first time an opportunity to create targeted ads. The OTA broadcast makes it ideally suited for massively parallel delivery as for sports events, which mobile networks find hard to meet even with proposed multicasting solutions.

Enabling NexGenTV
FCC, the US media and telecommunications regulator, enacted a series of enabling regulations which enabled the ATSC 3.0 ecosystem to evolve rapidly within 3 years, starting from scratch in 2017. In January 2019, Phoenix Arizona became the first TV Sstation (Arizona PBS) to carry Bbroadcasts in ATSC 3.0. As detailed in the FCC Communications Marketplace Report , 31 Dec 31, 2020, the “modernization of media regulation initiative”  has resulted in over 25 orders by the FCC, which included “Eliminating unnecessary regulations”. Regulations which that helped ATSC 3.0 include the waiver of necessity of providing ATSC 3.0 receivers in every device Television device sold and the accompanying subsidies for decoder replacement. 

Globally, Korea has already been a frontrunner in ATSC 3.0 with launch of services in 2017, with major broadcasters MBC, KBS, and SBS commencing transmissions in ATSC 3.0.

NexGenTV features built into devices
Major TV manufacturers ( Sony, Samsung, and LG) made the NexGenTV features widely available in a range of devices, fully enabled for 4K-HDR and Dolby Atmos, with theatre theater experience unheard of from a terrestrial broadcast. The TV stations sprang up rapidly with Fox, NBC, Independent, CBC, and ABC joining the fray. In Nov 2020, OneMedia 3.0 ( a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting) demonstrated Android phones, which supported ATSC 3.0.

Start up ecosystem for ATSC 3.0
Starting a new multidimensional technology train from scratch, it needed an ecosystem from technology to applications, which provided opportunities to hundreds of startups. Many of these startups are operating from India, though they have no opportunity to serve their technologies and products to local markets.

Why is NexGenTV important for India?
On 1 Feb 1, 20 21, China launched an 8K- UHD broadcast, using DTMB-A, where 4 four channels were multiplexed in to deliver a bit rate of 120 Mbps. Winter Olympics in China will be transmitted using 8K-HDR with a host of never before features. While 5G networks are slated to deliver many of the advanced features, they cannot still replace the Llarge- Sscreen Tterrestrial TV ecosystem. For a country like India with large local content, city- specific terrestrial transmissions cannot be substituted., as it moves ahead to align its media ecosystem to that of the world. Satellites are not ideally suited for such high resolutions, such as 8K due to design and cost factors. 

NexGenTV, a casualty of the Spectrum wars?
Terrestrial broadcasting services need spectrum in the VHF and UHF bands, which is typically auctioned as was the case in USA. This spectrum was derived as a result of digital dividend achieved as a result with the digitization of television about a decade back. 

5G services, contender for spectrum and needing large bandwidths, have been given higher bands including 24 GHz, 28 GHz, and 37 GHz in the USA after using the lower bands. In India as per TRAI’s latest consultation paper on 5G Sspectrum aAuction, large segments of spectrum in 500, 600, and 700 MHz bands are proposed to be offered to 5G, along with spectrum in the Mid-C-Band 3.6 GHz ( used for satellite television) , 26 GHz, and 28 GHz ( typically allocated for HTS satellite services) in an “All eggs in one basket approach”, which, if done, makes it impossible to launch countrywide network of terrestrial broadcasters with 10–-15 carriers needed for 4K. If that happens, NexGenTV- type ecosystem, which the country needs direly, would have been a casualty of s “Spectrum wars,” with unprecedented proposed allocation to 5G services. 

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