Posted on May 16, 2023 in ATSC News
Photo Caption: PBS North Carolina team at the 2023 NAB Show
A Chat with Fred Engel, Chief Technology Officer, PBS North Carolina
The University of North Carolina serves nearly 250,000 students at 16 universities across the state as well as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Of the 16 universities, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is one of the oldest public universities in the United States. It was founded in 1789. PBS North Carolina is an affiliate of the UNC System Office.
PBS North Carolina (PBS NC and formerly known as UNC-TV) began its first broadcast at WUNC-TV in 1955. PBS North Carolina was rebranded from our former name in 2021. PBS NC has expanded to 12 full power UHF broadcast transmission facilities, a large Distributed Transmission System in western NC and has a number of translators around the state.
Fred, talk about your research initiatives as it relates to ATSC 3.0.
PBS NC began research into the utilization of ATSC 3.0 in 2016 when we were first approached by Public Safety Communication officials who inquired whether we could solve technology challenges they had. Those initial discussions resulted in our first white paper, published in 2017, “Public Safety Datacast Paging.” The paper explored the problem of the 60-year-old analog paging technology for First Responders, and offered a solution, ATSC 3.0. That paper was presented to the NAB Pilot Innovation Challenge later in 2017 and it was selected as the first place winner over 150 other efforts. All PBS NC whitepapers are available at: https://www.pbsnc.org/nextgen-tv/
In 2018 PBS North Carolina convened a white board session that included many broadcast and public safety industry leaders where the problem was discussed in detail and potential solutions discussed. Also in 2018, over the Capitol Broadcast Company’s experimental ATSC 3.0 transmitter, PBS NC and Public Safety officials demonstrated the delivery of paging information from a 911 dispatch center (also known as a Public Safety Answering Point or “PSAP”) through the ATSC 3.0 transmission system, and successfully received and decoded them. The test showed the promise of this technology.
In 2019 PBS NC presented this effort at the NAB BEIT event in Las Vegas, NV.
In Autumn of 2019, PBS North Carolina commissioned our Next Gen TV Research Lab, a facility equipped with all the necessary equipment to replicate an ATSC 3.0 transmission system. The Lab allows for the testing and verification of applications before over the air broadcasting in the field.
Later in 2019 PBS NC and our Public Safety Communication partners presented this concept at a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conference. DHS reviewed the concept and decided to initiate a Small Business Research Grant opportunity to bring this concept to market. DHS selected two companies in the first phase of the grant process who were charged to describe how they would address this challenge. Upon completion of phase 1, DHS selected Device Solutions, Inc., an engineering firm in Morrisville, NC qualifying as a small business for the second phase, to develop an end-to-end system utilizing the ATSC 3.0 broadcast environment.
In late 2021, Device Solutions, Inc., built the first prototype pager receivers. With promising results PBS NC and Device Solutions presented at the 2022 NAB BEIT a paper on the further progress of this effort. It was awarded the “Best TV Engineering Paper” at the conference. In June of 2022 PBS NC and Device Solutions were also awarded the best paper at the IEEE BTS BMSB Conference in Bilbao, Spain.
2022 was also the year for extensive field testing of the first run of prototype of receivers. Tests were performed in eastern, central and western NC and the results were very promising. That fall, along with Capitol Broadcasting and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, PBS NC co-hosted the AWARN Alliance’s ATSC 3.0 advanced emergency messaging roundtable.
In April of 2023, PBS North Carolina, Device Solutions, Inc., and Triveni Digital were awarded the NAB Technology Innovation Award.
Why was it important to you and your organization to begin research or work in the ATSC 3.0 or terrestrial broadcast ecosystem?
The primary mission for Public Broadcasters is to align with three pillars of public service – education, public safety, and civic leadership. Our work using ATSC 3.0 offers many improvements over the current digital broadcasting system relating to improved video, audio, and reception performance as well as meaningful interactivity for viewers. And, with all of those consumer improvements, it offers many new opportunities in data transmission. PBS North Carolina, with our mission to “provide transformational experiences and trusted content to educate, inform, entertain and inspire the people of North Carolina” is focused on doing just that through our statewide network.
What projects is PBS North Carolina participating in with ATSC? This can also include projects with other ATSC members or broadcasters.
Our primary effort has been the “Digital Paging” development I mentioned. We are also focusing on remote learning efforts for students in homes without adequate internet access and how to serve communities who may suffer from language barriers or other challenges. We are working with other industry leaders to identify other applications key to them.
What are PBS North Carolina’s goals for its work with ATSC 3.0?
Our hope is to launch ATSC 3.0 throughout the state of North Carolina. The currently identified features and services of this technology will have a significant impact on those in our state. And that feature set is only the foundation of how this will evolve into new opportunities.
Is your work with ATSC 3.0 a team effort? Tell us about the team.
PBS North Carolina has a very strong technology team, and we also have a great set of technology partners. Our team includes Don Smith, Moh Fatmi, Chris Pandich, Casey Jennings, and many others. Our technology partners include Device Solutions, Inc., Triveni Digital, and the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina.
But the most important partners we have are in the Public Safety Communications and Education communities. Red Grasso, Charles Laird, Greg Hauser with the State of North Carolina, and local emergency responders and educators have worked alongside us and our technology partners to seek solutions to their problems.
Posted in ATSC News
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The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards and recommended practices for digital terrestrial broadcasting. ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. ATSC also develops digital terrestrial broadcasting implementation strategies and supports educational activities on ATSC standards.