LA TV stations will share a single channel in hopes of creating new 4G spectrum

Los Angeles TV stations KLCS and KJLA will conduct an interesting experiment in the next few months: they will try to merge their digital broadcasts onto a single TV channel.

The two stations are working with wireless industry group CTIA to investigate the feasibility of sharing TV airwaves, which could potentially clear up spectrum for commercial mobile broadband services. Why is this important? The Federal Communications Commission’s broadcast incentive auction is a little more than a year on the horizon. And the aim of that auction is to identify vast chunks of the 600 MHz TV airwaves that could be used by carriers for 4G and by the tech industry for unlicensed broadband.

Tom Wheeler Core Capital

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

To accomplish that, the FCC and the mobile industry need the cooperation of the broadcasters. If they don’t agree to part ways with their spectrum than there’s not going to be much of an auction. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been making the hard sell to broadcasters as of late, but with this trial CTIA is hoping it can convince broadcasters that it’s in their best interests to sell off some of those valuable airwaves.

The two stations are waiting on a final FCC approval, but once the pilot is approved, PBS affiliate KLCS with attempt to “host” KJLA’s transmissions on a single of TV spectrum. Basically both stations’ HD and SD video streams will occupy the same 6 MHz channel. In the old days of analog TV this wouldn’t have been possible, but the efficiencies of digital transmission it’s possible to cram a lot more information onto a megahertz of broadcast spectrum.

Assuming it works without a hitch, the pilot may convince broadcasters to consolidate their transmissions and submit a portion of their airwaves for auction. The more they submit the more valuable carriers will likely deem the airwaves, meaning the potential returns for the broadcasters and the U.S. government will be greater. But if broadcasters remain unconvinced the auction could be a flop.