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Delaying DTV Could Mean Longer Wait for LTE

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[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 (s VZ) LTE deployment to Qualcomm’s (s QCOM) 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 (s 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.

27 Responses to “Delaying DTV Could Mean Longer Wait for LTE”

  1. John Rossi

    I wonder when the final switch-over is going to come about. I feel like I remember there being an extension in place where everyone was running around trying to get (free) converter boxes, but I felt like congress threw up another one year extension or something. Maybe it was not a full year and I just missed the “new” deadline because I have cable.

  2. Gerald Frazier

    I heard that Obama and his transition team to put the DTV transition on hold. After February 17, 2009 most antlog TV sets like the Sony Watchman pocket TV will not work. There are so many people in the United States stll depend on the antlog TV channels. Some people are’nt ready for the DTV transition. The DTV transition will be delayed for at least 5 years. These people are still depending on antlog TV today. Obama need to meet with congress and the DTV transition delay at least 5 years.

  3. I will second Frank Ohrtman’s comments above. A three-month delay, or even six months, would have absolutely no material impact on an LTE deployment scheduled for 2010 at the earliest. White space devices will take time to make, and for that matter, white spaces already exist today (channels either not in use or where a licensed owner is not detectable above the required threshold), even with analog on the air.

    TV, for all its flaws, is an information lifeline, particularly in light of its use for the EAS and news. Areas where DTV uptake is lagging, i.e., where converter boxes are most required, are often those where broadband rollout is also lagging. These are also often unaffluent areas. Thus cutting off analog in advance of having converter boxes ready effectively is cutting off an information source to those who most need it.

  4. The DTV switch-over was announced years ago. It is virtually incomprehensible that there would be any delay in the transition following the widespread awareness created in recent years re: the switch-over. The bottom line is that analog is essentially dead — delaying its demise any further is simply to delay the ability to rollout other services offering significantly greater value added via the bandwidth that will be freed up via the transition.

    Consumers generally suffer from inertia — change often has to be imposed in order to occur — and in this instance the change is unquestionably “good” for the consumer — as well as any number of third party providers seeking to rollout a full complement of new “all digital” services from which the consumer will benefit directly.

    Lastly, one delay often begets others. A “deadline” isn’t a “deadline” if it can be moved. There is no compelling reason for the transition to be delayed hence it should proceed as planned — something which would again benefit providers, users as well as the markets given that progress usually leads to further progress — whereas analog represents little more than stagnation — an obstacle which needs to be surmounted in order for the aforementioned progress to take place.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 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.

  8. Stacey Higginbotham

    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.