Local public television stations provide a secure, data-centric network using existing broadcasts to deliver encrypted video, files, alerts and other data to public safety recipients via datacasting.

Recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pilot projects have demonstrated the effectiveness of this datacasting technology.

This solution can be included as a valuable addition to FirstNet State Plans.

Here’s how:

Datacasting is the process of delivering computer (IP) data over a traditional broadcast television signal. This turns television stations into a wireless data network. TV sets do not display IP data, so it is invisible to traditional over-the-air viewers. In addition, all datacasting content is encrypted, thereby restricting access to authorized users.

Television’s native one-to-many delivery model uses bandwidth very efficiently. The same model that lets broadcasters deliver the Super Bowl to 130 million people allows a large number of public safety users to be served with a small amount of bandwidth. One Mbps (1/20th of a station’s capacity) can deliver one live video stream, large files, alerts and other data to an unlimited number of users. Additional video streams serving separate end users would require 500 Kbps of additional bandwidth per stream.

Traditional wireless networks establish a separate path to each end user. This means that delivering the same content to 10 users requires 10 times the bandwidth, 100 users requires 100 times and so on. This lack of scalability can be a problem in emergency situations for cellular networks.


✓ Improve Rural Coverage with Large Geographic Reach
Because broadcast TV signals are widely available geographically in urban, suburban and rural environments, datacasting coverage typically exceeds that of cellular systems and land mobile radio. For example, digital TV broadcasts can cover 10,000 square miles or more, which is orders of magnitude greater than cellular coverage. TV broadcasts can reach both remote areas, and urban “dead spots” not covered by existing public safety communications systems.

✓ Highly Reliable
Because datacasting uses the infrastructure provided by a broadcast TV station, it is a highly reliable and available method of communication, and the spectrum never overloads with use.

✓ Unlimited Capacity
Datacasting is not subject to congestion during emergencies. Unlike other public safety communications systems, datacasting does not need to share infrastructure or capacity with commercial communication networks.

✓ Extremely Efficient and Cost Effective
Datacasting can be used to multicast data to a large number of users in a cost-effective way. Datacasting can be an efficient use of available bandwidth and possibly reduce the cost of commercial service to the public safety agency by reducing the overall demand for bandwidth.

✓ Native Video Technology
Datacasting leverages a system designed primarily for the transmission of high-quality video and audio streams. Thus, it has the innate ability to address the public safety community’s desire for high-quality audio and video data sharing.

✓ Utilizes Existing Technology
Datacasting could be implemented relatively quickly and operated efficiently. Many public television stations are already configured to support datacasting. The existing digital TV transmission infrastructure (i.e., power, radio frequency equipment, antenna, tower) is used, so datacasting does not add a significant cost to the broadcaster.

In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Science and Technology conducted two successful pilots in Houston and Chicago working with local public television stations to utilize public television’s datacasting technology to deliver encrypted video and data to a multitude of public safety end-users.

The John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory released reports on these pilots pointing to the highly effective nature of the tests with officers participating in the tests reporting “that datacasting provided video and audio quality far exceeding current capability (which is frequently non-existent).” One officer reported that “he considered the ability to receive high quality video in particular to be a life-saving feature.”

The technology meshed well with existing technology and operations, and proved to enhance interoperability between different end-users. Public safety personnel involved in the pilot were also impressed with the ease of installation of the equipment and ease of use, even with very little training.

The DHS pilots prove that public television can provide solutions for the current communications challenges of the public safety community and that public television can be a valuable partner for the FirstNet initiative by providing high-quality, one-to-many communications services that enhance the FirstNet capabilities.

In 2016, additional tests were conducted in Boston and Washington, D.C. using public television spectrum and the FirstNet band 14 LTE two-way cellular system. The pilots proved that data can seamlessly travel between the two wireless systems (television and LTE band 14). In this way, the public television spectrum will be a great resource to FirstNet and AT&T.

While the FirstNet network is a cellular network, datacasting can complement this network with much needed video features and one-to-many communications capabilities that are not bandwidth constrained. In February 2016, the APTS station membership voted to commit in principal 1 Mb per second to the FirstNet initiative. APTS has had discussions with FirstNet and the winning contractor, AT&T, about incorporating datacasting into the FirstNet rollout. These discussions are ongoing, but the commitment by APTS member stations demonstrates the public television community’s serious intent to assist with critical public safety communications.

Contact APTS and SpectraRep to set up a local plan.

APTS: Lonna Thompson, Executive VP, COO and General Counsel, America’s Public Television Stations – [email protected]

SpectraRep: Mark O’Brien, President and CTO, SpectraRep – [email protected]

For more information on Michigan Public Television Datacasting contact Karole White at 517.484.7444 or [email protected]