SEATTLE—Bonnie Beeman and John Casey, two industry veterans with a history of developing new technology for over-the-air DTV, recently formed “airwavz.tv,” which they describe as a “full-service multimedia platform” offering solutions for web, hardware, mobile and DTV. Beeman and Casey recently debuted the company’s first hardware product, called “Quarterback,” an Android smartphone case that doubles as an ATSC receiver, at the NAB Show and last month’s annual ATSC meeting in Washington, D.C.
TV Technology recently talked with Beeman on the development of the Quarterback and her company’s philosophy on the future of over-the-air broadcast television in the U.S.
TV TECHNOLOGY: What inspired you to develop Quarterback?
BEEMAN: Not having a wireless connection during life and death events was my inspiration for creating Quarterback. Between 2012 and 2014, I was commuting between Seattle and Cambridge to finish grad school at MIT, and there happened to be three catastrophic events that hit the Boston area while I was in town: Hurricane Sandy, Storm Nemo and the Boston Marathon bombings. During each of these disasters, local cellular service was taken out of commission for an extended period of time.
During these emergencies, television broadcast never went off-air, and I started thinking that since my smartphone still had battery, and a high-resolution screen, how could I harness the reach of broadcast television on my mobile? I came up with the idea for Quarterback during grad school, and decided to quit my job, launch a startup and build this portable TV antenna, so when critical events were unfolding, I would have a safety lifeline to live TV news coverage while I was traveling.
The name “Quarterback” was inspired from the need to prop up my smartphone on a table, so I could watch TV at an angle without holding it. In my first design, there was no room for a kickstand on the back because the battery was so big, so I cut a horizontal slot in the bottom big enough for a quarter to hold the device up at an angle. I figured most people have a quarter in their pocket, and it was my solution for a poor-man’s kickstand. Then a lightbulb went off that we would name it “Quarterback,” which was a play on words, given that NFL is the single most-watched TV programming in the US.
TVT: How long did it take to develop it?
BEEMAN: Three years. First, I had to focus on how to solve the complicated RF technical issues, and then I tackled the construction/usability of the form factor. Our first “Frankenstein” working Quarterback prototype came to life on April 5, 2016, and we are now in the process of beginning manufacturing. I filed the original utility and design patents for Quarterback in May 2013, and am delighted to share that our first design patent was granted in May 2016. We also have a utility patent-pending.
TVT: What were some of the barriers/challenges to developing it?
BEEMAN: The biggest challenge by far, was proving my theory that the Quarterback form factor solved these five major user problems: 1) How to fit and position a very large TV antenna directly next to a smartphone LTE antenna and ensure that both services will work in parallel. 2) Keep TV always on (even in sleep mode), so Advanced Warning and Response Network (AWARN) messages over broadcast TV will be received. 3) Hardware must be luxury low-profile, premium-grade and attractive to consumers. 4) Set the user expectations up front that Quarterback TV channel access and quality is “acceptable” on the ATSC 1.0 network, and retrofitted for ATSC 3.0. 5) Design Quarterback as a global digital TV accessory.
TVT: Who, among retailers and/or carriers has expressed interest?
BEEMAN: We have had discussions with Tier-1 wireless carriers, and TV broadcasters from the U.S. and different countries, but I am not at liberty to reveal names yet. Hopefully in the near future, we’ll announce one or more strategic partnerships. We envision Quarterback to be the hardware bridge between wireless carriers, cable operators, content providers and TV broadcasters. We’ve solved the hard science of how to get TV to a mobile audience, and there are an unlimited number of use-cases for Quarterback to extend TV capacity and reach all over the world.
TVT: What is the cost and when will it be available?
BEEMAN: We are planning to ship our first “Limited Edition” Quarterback in Q1 2017. Our website http://quarterback.airwavz.tv will have pre-sales available for purchase online in Q3 2016. First-come buyers will get a great 25 percent discount, and we’ll have lots of options for deeper discounts if people buy higher quantity, refer friends and share on social media. The early adopter price of Quarterback will be revealed in Q3 on our website, so we encourage people to sign up on http://airwavz.tv so we can let you know when Quarterback goes on sale.
TVT: Will this be able to pick up other signals beyond ATSC 1 and ATSC 3?
BEEMAN: Yes, Quarterback is designed for both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 but the real value-add is that Quarterback is designed to support all global TV technologies: ISDB, DVB, DVB-T2, DMB-T, ADTB-T, TiMi 3 and DTMB, and we are preparing to take pre-orders for international clients. Like any TV antenna, coverage varies depending on location and terrain, but we are encouraged that our early field and laboratory testing shows Quarterback has TV channel access to the full UHF band, and some VHF.
TVT: Have you done any market surveys on this type of product?
BEEMAN: Yes, I’ve done peer surveys and market research on Quarterback at MIT, and within the angel investing community I’m actively involved with in Seattle. Early user feedback is that people see the immediate value in being able to view high-definition, exceptionally clear, live over-the-air free digital TV on their smartphones without any subscription fees. There is “pent-up demand” for Quarterback, because it does not impact a user’s wireless data plan, and the auxiliary battery, on-board DVR, front facing hard key are an added bonus.
Broadcasters recognize that Airwavz.tv has been able to solve the deep technical issues of retrofitting very large TV antennas to fit premium grade smartphones and extend the reach of TV to a mobile audience. Wireless carriers understand the value in bundling smartphones with a luxury accessory that offloads their congested networks, and delivers the same high quality digital TV service to millions of subscribers simultaneously within net neutrality rules.
TVT: How much weight does it add to the device?
BEEMAN: Quarterback weighs approximately 6 ounces, mostly attributed to our auxiliary battery.
TVT: In terms of percentage, how much more of a “footprint” (overall size) does this add to the smartphone?
BEEMAN: We’ve designed Quarterback as a luxury smartphone accessory that is low profile, and fits the same premium look and feel as the beautiful smartphones they protect. Quarterback adds roughly the same dimensions as other premium smartphone covers. Exact dimensions will be posted on our online store, so we encourage people to sign up in advance to get notified: http://airwavz.tv
TVT: Will you make a tablet version?
BEEMAN: Yes, absolutely.
TVT: Is this available for both iOS and Android phones?
BEEMAN: Yes. We’ll release an Android version first, and then iOS.
TVT: On your website, airwavz.tv, you take very clear positions on spectrum and other broadcast issues. Please explain how this forms your company’s philosophy and way of doing business.
BEEMAN: What citizens around the world don’t know is that television is an unparalleled, ultra-broadband wireless network that is capable of delivering high-definition digital TV hundreds of miles away, and serves millions of subscribers simultaneously. Television is the epitome of the most influential social network in the world, because it can reach millions of people tuned in at the same time, with the same message, and serve as a life-line to mission-critical information.
Citizens also need to know that wireless data service is increasingly more expensive, because it is overloaded with click-bait advertising, malware, tracking bots, web crawlers and widgets. Conversely, television is a closed, controlled, protected and trusted wireless downlink that provides grade-A digital video quality, with a straight-forward advertising based revenue model.
TV is free clear-to-air, broadcast every day, all day, around the world, and all you need to pick up the TV signal is an antenna–like Quarterback.
Airwavz.tv philosophy is simple: We create instant, easy access to mission-critical headline and breaking news that is simulcast over digital media, web, mobile and live television broadcast networks. We hold television broadcasters and wireless carriers in high regard, and see Quarterback as a bridge for citizens around the world to have an “always on” TV lifeline on their smartphones.