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Boston TV station WWOO-LD to test signal over 5G

A low-power television station in the Boston area has become the first in the nation to broadcast its TV signal using fifth-generation (5G) wireless technology.

The station, WWOO (Channel 28), filed an application with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) earlier this summer to begin experimental transmission using the same 5G network that mobile phones, tablets and other devices leverage to make two-way communications.

Proponents of the experiment say it could lead to a future where TV broadcasts over 5G allow people to watch live video on their mobile devices, just as they make phone calls and use wireless data.

Current 5G-capable phones, tablets and laptops won’t be able to receive these experimental broadcasts because they lack the necessary chips and software needed to receive and decode TV-over-5G (TV5G) broadcasts. But the consortium overseeing the experiment has worked with several industry stakeholders, including Qualcomm, to work on solutions that could enable the technology’s broad adoption across consumer electronic devices in the future.

“Anybody who has been frustrated in a crowded football stadium trying to watch the game on a phone can understand the value of sending out in-demand streams and data via broadcast,” Preston Padden, a former Fox executive who works with the LPTV Broadcasters Association (LPTVBA), the industry group pushing for TV-over-5G, said in an interview with Forbes. “But the possibilities are so much more, from long-distance learning to high-definition encrypted video to first responders, to filling holes in areas underserved by the Internet.”

While conventional 5G mobile devices allow for two-way communication, TV5G signals would work similar to traditional broadcast television, pushing TV signals out to many consumers at once over the 5G network.

Since TV5G signals are simply data streams, other types of data can be transmitted at the same time, including weather forecasts, traffic conditions, emergency alerts and even downloadable files. At launch, WWOO-LD’s first transmissions will incorporate a live feed of NASA Television along with a simulcast of emergency-related messages targeted at first responders.

Supporters of the experimental transmission say it could eventually pave the way for more-robust forms of emergency communications between broadcasters and citizens, to include live breaking news video from television stations and alert notifications on severe weather and other types of public incidents. That video and related data streams would be available as long as the licensed broadcaster is transmitting, and could be more-resilient than conventional cellular phone networks during critical emergencies, they say.

The experimental broadcasts will cover a sizable area of Boston from a transmitter point located at One Beacon Street, a 34-story skyscraper nestled between Downtown Boston and the city’s Back Bay district. While consumer devices capable of receiving TV5G broadcasts aren’t yet available, those with software-defined radio and related hardware can watch WWOO-LD’s live transmission in the Boston area now.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).