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It’s time to add “broadcast internet” to your broadband glossary if you haven’t added it already, as news this week from two companies involved in the emerging technology – Auton and Anywave – illustrates.

Telecompetitor talked to Vern Fotheringham, chairman of Auton, about the broadcast internet testbed that Auton and Anywave have established in Bend, Oregon and about future plans for the technology, which, among other things, aims to offer an alternative streaming path for popular video and internet content using TV spectrum.

What is Broadcast Internet?

Broadcast Internet is delivered via ATSC 3.0, the latest version of the Advanced Television Systems Committee standard that defines communications over TV broadcast spectrum. Plans for it include using TV spectrum to deliver the most popular streaming content on demand and distributing sports events and the like in real time.

This approach is designed to enable content to be delivered to connected cars and to individual homes. The latter implementation could be particularly useful for broadband providers with limited bandwidth because it would minimize the amount of bandwidth consumed over the provider’s connection. Ultimately content also may be available to mobile devices.

Initially, Fotheringham expects to see broadcast internet implemented using low-power television (LPTV) spectrum because high-power television stations don’t have spectrum available to use for that purpose at this time. “Low power” is a bit of misnomer in comparison with cellular transmission, considering that LPTV stations cover distances of at least 30 miles, Fotheringham noted.

The role that Auton expects to play is to provide the content distribution network that will underlie broadcast internet. Obtaining a nationwide footprint to cover 85% of the U.S. will involve obtaining spectrum from 1100 LPTV stations, establishing storage for popular content that will be co-located with the LPTV transmitters and using satellite to distribute content to the storage sites.

Anywave’s role will be to provide the transmission equipment that will enable the content to be distributed via the LPTV spectrum.

The Testbed

The two companies already have prototype infrastructure deployed in Bend and are using LPTV spectrum licensed to WatchTV to support the testbed. Fotheringham expects to see a range of participants in the testbed.

He said Auton has been in discussions with manufacturers interested in offering customer premises equipment (CPE) to support broadcast internet about using the testbed. In addition, Auton has discussed usage of the testbed with content providers that might want to make their content available via broadcast internet and with broadband providers that might be interested in the offering.

Ultimately, the goal would be to integrate broadcast internet technology with traditional broadband CPE so that it would be transparent to the end user which path the content is taking to reach the home. Content providers would pay Auton to have content distributed and the broadband provider would share in the revenues.

Although what Auton is doing may sound a lot like the caching approach used by traditional content distributors, there is at least one important difference. As Fotheringham explained, with broadcast internet, the final link to the end user is one-to-many, rather than the one-to-one approach used by traditional content distributors, thereby freeing up vast numbers of ports in the data center/storage site. According to Fotheringham, there will also be less lag time than with traditional approaches to video streaming.

Auton would seem to face a major task in obtaining the 1100 LPTV spectrum licenses needed to support the offering, but as Fotheringham explained, “We’ve been at this for over a decade” and with regard to the LPTV licensees, he said, “We know who they are and where they are, and we know most of them by their first name.”

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