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Summary:

[qi:032] President-elect Barack Obama is asking Congress to delay the transition that will force the nation’s TV broadcasts to switch from analog to digital signals. Depending on how long the delay is, it could affect the deployment of several services destined for the spectrum currently occupied […]

[qi:032] President-elect Barack Obama is asking Congress to delay the transition that will force the nation’s TV broadcasts to switch from analog to digital signals. Depending on how long the delay is, it could affect the deployment of several services destined for the spectrum currently occupied by those analog TV signals. Those services range from Verizon’s LTE deployment to Qualcomm’s plans to broadcast mobile digital televison in markets such as San Francisco and Miami.

A research report from investment bank Stifel Nicolaus Associates downplays the risks of a short delay, as long as it doesn’t extend past mid-May, but it also points out that the move could leave the door open to further delays. From the report:

We do not believe an extension of this length would significantly affect any of the winning bidders of the 700 MHz spectrum, including most significantly Verizon Wireless and AT&T. We believe the broadcasters would be quietly relieved.

Obama’s request came a few days after the program that issued coupons to offset the cost of digital converter boxes said it would run out of money and could not respond to all the requests for coupons. Consumer’s Union, the organization that publishes Consumer Reports, issued a statment saying, “The federal government is getting $19 billion from selling the analog TV spectrum, while people with analog TVs have to go out and spend their own money for a converter box.” It asked Congress to wait.

While we wait on Congress, white spaces broadband will be on hold (it’s designed to occupy spaces between the digital signals in the DTV spectrum); any deployments by cell phones companies in their 700 MHz bands will be paused, including Verizon’s aggressive plans for deploying LTE; and Cox Cable’s wireless plans will also face a delay as the company plans to use 700 MHz spectrum for some of its services. Perhaps the most immediate effects would be felt by Qualcomm, which has ambitious plans to turn on its MediaFLO mobile TV service in some markets as soon as the digital conversion is complete.

Given that a few million people are likely to be affected by the DTV switch and that it’s unclear if Qualcomm even has that many mobile TV subscribers, I suppose the wait will still benefit the greater number of people. However, if delays start pushing back white spaces and LTE, it’s time to accept that there will always be people who will wake up one day surprised and angry to find their analog TV dark. Perhaps the affected spectrum owners can find the laggards and show up at their door with new TVs.

  1. How does this affect the 4G camp – the Clearwire group? The Sprint gang? Do they hold spectrum in this region, or is it from a different area?

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  2. Stacey Higginbotham Friday, January 9, 2009

    Dee, Clearwire and Sprint’s WiMAX spectrum is mostly in the 2.5 GHz range, so this shouldn’t affect them. Sprint didn’t bid in the 700 MHz auction, not sure if Clearwire did.

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  3. [...] the switchover “woefully inadequate.” Of course a delay in the transition could mean a delay in LTE 4G services.read [...]

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  4. Google should get started right away making those White Space devices and put them out there as soon as possible. We could be getting free wireless broadband with that. Not only in the USA, once it’s started, all other countries will have to copy the model.

    You use the FON.com model:

    Small router box connected in people’s home on people’s ADSL, Cable or Fiber optic connections in the home – That internet connection is shared on White Spaces to cover the whole nabourhood – People connect on White Spaces for free if they are sharing bandwidth on White Spaces with the same type of $15 white spaces router in their home. – People connecting who aren’t sharing their own home broadband connection on White Spaces to a large number of other users, need to pay a small fee for the bandwidth. That fee is used to pay for the deployments of White Spaces base stations.

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  5. [...] the switchover “woefully inadequate.” Of course a delay in the transition could mean a delay in LTE 4G services.read [...]

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  6. Man, how many times has this been delayed already? I don’t think anyone takes the deadlines seriously since they keep getting pushed back.

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  7. It won’t be delayed again (a prediction), and it won’t matter how much Obama whines. The transition needs to happen for HDTV to really take off.

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  8. This transition has been delayed several times. Network studios were subsidized years ago from the government to build out infrastructure to get their stations “Digital Ready”. The networks spent the money on other infrastructure needs instead. Now we could be possibly delayed again. In product development you gotta get the product out the door – you can’t keep waiting for all the nits to fall into place. As Gadget Sleuth said, “The transition needs to happen for HDTV to really take off”. Totally agree. Move us forward please. Mush.

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  9. I wouldn’t speculate that any major 700 MHz spectrum holder had any intention of deploying a 700 MHz system any time in 2009 or even 2010 if ever. The purpose for VZ and AT&T to buy up the majority of licenses during last year’s auction was to keep competitors out of the wireless market. Unless you live in a very rural market, don’t hold your breath for a large wireless player to offer services on 700 MHz for the next few years if ever. The majority of that spectrum is “warehoused” to block competitors.

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  10. [...] Unfortunately, delaying the digital TV switch would delay the LTE implementations that Verizon plans for that 700 MHz spectrum: http://gigaom.com/2009/01/09/delaying-dtv-could-mean-longer-wait-for-lte/ [...]

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