A new means of TV broadcasting allowing low-power TV stations to send out 5G cellular one-to-many transmissions is scheduled to begin tests this week in Boston.

On Wednesday, low-power Boston area TV broadcaster WWOO-LD (channel 28) will launch a live 24/7 5G broadcast channel, marking the first such digital television station of its kind in the U.S.

The 5G broadcasts will originate from One Beacon Street, under experimental license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The experimental broadcast is the result of efforts from Low Power TV Broadcasters Association (LPTVBA) and XGen Network, which have been working with chip manufacturers, transmitter companies, software developers, mobile device makers and government authorities to make it happen.

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The 5G cellular format is well known today as the latest cellular platform for one-to-one mobile device transmission and reception. But as any cellphone user knows, this can be subject to congestion when thousands of phone calls and data transmissions are occurring by many individual users in a local area.

But 5G one-to-many broadcasting will use bandwidth to send content and data to many mobile devices at one time, enabling massive supplemental downloads of high definition communication directly to many end-users all at once.

In addition to serving general-interest TV programs, the adaption is expected to lead to uses for long-distance learning, high-definition encrypted video to first responders, and serving areas where regular broadband internet services may not reach or be available.

To start, the WWOO-LD experimental broadcast will include NASA TV and first responder encrypted data. The station will be looking to confirm the ability to use 5G both for traditional over-the-air TV broadcast content and as a platform for emergency communication to first responders and as secondary means of emergency broadcasting to the public in time when conventional communications methods may be blocked or unavailable, like weather disasters.

During normal cellular operation, 5G broadcasting can be used push alerts to mass targets in under one second. It is said to be optimal in getting important messages out to the public quickly at times when traditional cellphone uses overwhelm nearby transmitters like sports stadiums and mass gatherings.

The 5G trial comes in addition to ATSC 3.0 over-the-air broadcasts that began in Boston in July 2022, when WCRN TV 31 launched the region’s first NextGen TV platform. ATSC 3.0 datacasting and the NextGen TV/Radio technical platform is based on Internet Protocol (IP), and will eventually allow televisions in the home to receive and interact with IP data. The NextGen TV technology allows broadcasters to transmit unlimited encrypted broadcast datacasting services to businesses and first responders.

Unfortunately, few Bostonians will be able to tune into the initial test broadcasts. It will take a software-defined radio system (SDR) to do that. But the traditional WWOO signal can be received live by TV sets in the local market on UHF channel 28.

If all goes smoothly with the the trial and the technology if further refined, one-to-many 5G LPTV transmissions could be more broadly available by late 2024.

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By Greg Tarr

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