June 2, 2021

Case Study: State of Arkansas PBS - delivering future ready infrastructure to deal with today’s challenges

2020 was a year like no other and as a result our customers came to us with some unique challenges. This week we look at one of our broadcast projects from 2020 and sit down with Nick Wymant, Global Product Line Manager at RFS and Andrew Bicknell, CTO at Arkansas PBS to find out more about a collaboration at the height of the pandemic that sought to address an urgent need, while also making a smart investment in the future.

Nick Wymant, Global Product Manager Broadcast

Tell us a little more about the project

AB: We, at Arkansas PBS, identified in 2019 the need to enhance our transmission coverage to reach the state’s entire population. This would involve adding additional antennas to fill in the coverage gaps so we could move from 76% coverage to near 100%. What we hadn’t counted on was that the pandemic would add a significant amount of time pressure to achieve this. As schools across the state close duel to Covid, Arkansas PBS launched its Alternative Method of Education (AMI) initiative, which created a state-wide broadcast school environment for students K-12, as a vital service that needed to reach every student in the state. We secured additional CARES Act Covid Emergency Funding to support the infrastructure upgrade needed to deliver and following an emergency bid process, chose to work with RFS. 

NW: When we responded to the RFQ for this project we could see that the challenge Arkansas PBS was facing was balancing the need to act quickly and roll out coverage upgrades to meet and urgent demand, while ensuring that its choice of infrastructure would not hamstring its efforts to meet ATSC3.0. It was a real exercise in delivering technology for today, with the future in mind.  

What were the biggest challenges of the deployment? 

AB: From our side it was definitely that balance of speed and future flexibility. The wrong infrastructure upgrade is an expensive mistake to make, and we were keen to ensure that we didn’t make any errors with this deployment. 

NW: From our side we know that our customers have these concerns and so our broadcast technology is specifically designed to address these issues out of the gate. We offer superior technical performance with our ATSC3.0 ready systems that give maximum flexibility to enable future changes to be made. We also looked to go beyond simply filling in coverage gaps with equipment that could transmit stronger signal that can reach devices inside buildings which will become essential as part of ATSC3.0 roll outs. 

Can you share more about the technical requirements of the project and how RFS addressed those?

NW: To ensure the quick roll out of the project, we were to use existing towers. The towers available for this project were, for the most part, smaller and less robust than the tall towers traditionally used for broadcast. We therefore put a huge emphasis on ensuring we offered our low wind-load antennas from our NextGen-TV family of antennas.  This varied from site to site, and we offered a combination of panel 662-NG low wind load panel antennas and NGV broadband low wind-load slot antennas.

As being ATSC3.0 ready was a priority, the transmitting antenna also needed to provide a signal that was able to reach devices that are indoors. We achieved this by using antennas which employed elliptical polarization or circular polarization. This was adjusted on a site-by-site basis to optimize the performance of each antenna and will not only serve to deliver optimum performance now, but in the future as indoor reception becomes a greater priority for both broadcasters and consumers. 

The final key requirement from Arkansas PBS was flexibility. All antennas supplied needed to be broadband, allowing any future channel within the Hi-VHF band to be transmitted without making any changes to the antennas. Likewise, mask filters and combiners needed to be fully re-tuneable which was made possible with the RFS BCAT (Broadcast Computer Aided Tuning) software enabling re-tuning to be done on site in less than a few hours.

As part of a separate project RFS also provided the Microwave links needed for the new sites that were also ATSC3.0 ready. 

From our perspective we wanted to make sure that we had an eye firmly on the future when designing this deployment. We know how expensive it can be to upgrade infrastructure and how imperative it is to anticipate all future eventualities and design a system able to cope with them. 

AB: On a technical level, we did need a lot as the infrastructure needed to be futureproof, while addressing a pressing problem we were facing in extending coverage quickly. RFS stood out as a provider that was able to deliver everything we were looking for, and the fact that the Connecticut facility enabled the short lead time we were looking for was a real bonus. 

How does the project feed into the State of Arkansas PBS’s future plans?

AB: At Arkansas PBS, we pride ourselves on being a broadcaster that is innovative and provides services that enrich the lives of our citizens. A big part of this is tapping into new trends and moving to ATSC3.0 is certainly on our radar. This particular deployment with RFS has definitely given us a starting point for delivering enhanced over-the-air services to virtually every resident in Arkansas. 

NW: We designed this system with multiple future eventualities in mind. It is ATSC3.0 ready, it is suitable for Single Frequency Network deployments, channels can be easily retuned or added, and it is fully optimized to allow Arkansas PBS to deliver the best possible coverage with the greatest possible flexibility. Arkansas PBS is a great example for broadcasters of how to blend the enhancement of current offerings, while building infrastructure that is future ready to offer the best possible broadcasting service to its customers. At RFS we are pleased to have played a part in this. 

If you would like to hear more about how RFS is working with broadcasters across the US as they move to ATSC3.0 standards, get in touch with Nick Wymant, Global Product Line Manager.

About the author

Nick Wymant

Global Product Manager Broadcast