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Terrestrial television or over-the-air television (OTA) is a type of television broadcasting in which the signal transmission occurs via radio waves from the terrestrial (Earth-based) transmitter of a TV station to a TV receiver having an antenna. The term terrestrial is more common in Europe and Latin America, while in Canada and the United States it is called over-the-air or simply broadcast. This type of TV broadcast is distinguished from newer technologies, such as satellite television (direct broadcast satellite or DBS television), in which the signal is transmitted to the receiver from an overhead satellite; cable television, in which the signal is carried to the receiver through a cable; and Internet Protocol television, in which the signal is received over an Internet stream or on a network utilizing the Internet Protocol. Terrestrial television stations broadcast on television channels with frequencies between about 52 and 600 MHz in the VHF and UHF bands. Since radio waves in these bands travel by line of sight, reception is generally limited by the visual horizon to distances of 64–97 kilometres (40–60 mi), although under better conditions and with tropospheric ducting, signals can sometimes be received hundreds of kilometers distant.
Terrestrial television was the first technology used for television broadcasting. The BBC began broadcasting in 1929 and by 1930 many radio stations had a regular schedule of experimental television programmes. However, these early experimental systems had insufficient picture quality to attract the public, due to their mechanical scan technology, and television did not become widespread until after World War II with the advent of electronic scan television technology. The television broadcasting business followed the model of radio networks, with local television stations in cities and towns affiliated with television networks, either commercial (in the US) or government-controlled (in Europe), which provided content. Television broadcasts were in black and white until the transition to color television in the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
There was no other method of television delivery until the 1950s with the beginnings of cable television and community antenna television (CATV). CATV was, initially, only a re-broadcast of over-the-air signals. With the widespread adoption of cable across the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, viewing of terrestrial television broadcasts has been in decline; in 2018, it was estimated that about 14% of US households used an antenna. However, in certain other regions terrestrial television continue to be the preferred method of receiving television, and it is estimated by Deloitte as of 2020 that at least 1.6 billion people in the world receive at least some television using these means. The largest market is thought to be Indonesia, where 250 million people watch through terrestrial.