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Granite considers mobile DTV thrust

Granite Broadcasting wants to see if it can offer American consumers the same type of mobile digital television services that are being developed in Europe and Asia.

Kntv, the Granite station in San Jose, Calif., has received a temporary license from the FCC to test COFDM-based DTV transmissions in the San Francisco market. The station is currently evaluating the technical feasibility of starting such a trial this month and hopes to begin tests in a few weeks, says kntv President and General Manager Bob Franklin. The concept would be to target "captive viewers" in taxis, buses and trains, says Franklin.

Granite applied for the STA (special temporary authority) this summer in what company President Stuart Beck called "a burst of enthusiasm" after he witnessed mobile-DTV reception during a business trip to Singapore.

"I saw fully mobile television going 50 mph in the back seat of a car with an antenna and a 10-inch flat-panel display," he says. "The quality was wonderful, and, as a man with four children who sit in the back seat of a Suburban, I was intrigued."

Although Granite quietly received the STA in August (it isn't posted on the FCC Web site), the station group has yet to begin testing, primarily because the "technical issues are very daunting," says Beck.

Beck has come to appreciate the difference between the single-frequency network (SFN) used to broadcast COFDM in Singapore, which encompasses eight distinct transmitters, and the "big stick at kntv." Kntv, currently operating an 8-VSB DTV signal, also doesn't have a COFDM exciter. But Beck is hopeful that Granite can procure COFDM equipment, perhaps with the help of connections in Australia and Singapore.

He doesn't want to study COFDM's mobile capabilities with only DTV in mind. He points out that COFDM has been discussed as a possible modulation scheme for the ch. 60-69 spectrum the FCC plans to auction. "We may be better off looking at other areas where spectrum is available."

If the mobile-DTV test does happen, it will definitely include consumer demonstrations, says Beck. "I certainly think we'll try to get some consumer reaction and develop a public-policy analysis. That makes sense here."

Since kntv's STA will expire in mid-February, Granite will probably wind up asking the FCC for an extension. "I don't think we're going to get this thing technically completed by the end of the license term," Beck explains.

According to the FCC's Mass Media Bureau, kntv's STA is the 10th granted specifically for COFDM broadcasts. Sinclair-owned kupn Las Vegas received one-month STAs in April 1999 and 2000 to conduct COFDM transmissions during the NAB convention. NBC O & O wcau Philadelphia received a one-month license last January to perform COFDM tests. And six stations have received six-month STAs this year to air COFDM broadcasts as part of DTV transmission tests by the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV): wrc, wusa and weta in Washington, D.C.; and wnuv, wbff and wbal in Baltimore.