What Is OTA (over-the-air) Update? (A Complete Guide)

OTA stands for over-the-air, referring to broadcast television signals that are transmitted wirelessly or “over the air” to your TV antenna.

It provides free access to local broadcast channels like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, and others without the need for a cable or satellite subscription.

OTA TV leverages DTV (digital television) standards to deliver high-definition channels through a new generation of HDTV antennas. 

With cord-cutting on the rise, OTA has regained popularity as a budget-friendly way to watch news, sports, shows, specials, and more for free in full HD quality. An OTA DVR can also record programs to watch later. 

This article will cover everything you need to know about modern over-the-air TV including how it works, reception tips, recommended antennas, and using an OTA DVR.

OTA (over-the-air): A Complete Guide

How OTA Updates Work

OTA updates work by leveraging wireless data connections to deliver and install new software onto a device. The process involves several key steps:

Update Package Creation

The company first created a new software update package designed for OTA transfer. This includes the updated firmware, any new resources or assets, and an installation script. The package is optimized for efficient wireless delivery.

Transfer to Devices

The update package is then distributed to devices over the air via WiFi, cellular, or another wireless protocol. A notification is usually sent to devices informing them of an available update. The entire package does not need to be transferred at once.


Once the OTA update reaches the device, it runs a script to install the update. This is done in the background while the device is powered on and connected.

Installation may involve steps like validating the integrity of the update, backing up current software, replacing relevant firmware/OS files, and cleaning up installation files.


The device then verifies the update was installed correctly. It may perform checks on the firmware or reboot into the new OS version. Diagnostic data is usually sent back to the company to confirm success.

Benefits of OTA Updates

OTA updates provide many advantages over traditional manual software updates:


OTA updates happen automatically in the background. Users do not need to manually download and install software updates themselves. This improves convenience and ensures users have the latest releases.


Wireless data transmission allows OTA updates to be delivered to devices much faster than manual downloads or physical service visits. Updates can be propagated to large fleets of devices easily.

Cost Savings

Companies save significantly on the cost of distributing and managing software updates. OTA removes the need for shipping costs, retail space, or service technician visits.


OTA updates allow security patches and bug fixes to be installed quickly when issues arise. Rather than waiting for manual updates, vulnerabilities can be addressed via OTA rapidly. Updates are cryptographically signed to prevent tampering.

New Capabilities

OTA updates can introduce new features, apps, services, and capabilities to devices. Companies can add value to devices over time without requiring new hardware purchases.


The OTA process provides analytics on updated success rates. Companies gain visibility into issues and can improve the update process over time.

Challenges with OTA Updates

However, there are some potential challenges with implementing OTA updates:

Device Compatibility

The device hardware and installed software must be compatible with receiving OTA updates. Older devices may lack OTA capability. Compatibility issues can prevent updates from being installed properly.

Bandwidth Requirements

Delivering updates to large device fleets requires sufficient network bandwidth, especially for full OS updates. Bandwidth costs may be prohibitive depending on the scale.


Companies need to thoroughly test OTA updates before release to avoid bugs or issues that could disrupt users and operations. Testing at scale presents challenges.

User Experience

If the OTA process interrupts usage or has flaws in the user update experience, it could generate complaints and frustration. User experience testing is key.

Security Risks

While designed to be secure, the OTA process could potentially be exploited by hackers if not properly implemented. Strong encryption and code signing provide protection.

Uses Cases for OTA Updates

OTA technology enables several key use cases across many industries:

Consumer Devices

All modern smartphones, tablets, watches, and other consumer gadgets rely on OTA updates for new features, apps, and security patches. It enables continuous value delivery after purchase.

Automotive Software

Connected cars can receive OTA updates to infotainment systems, telematics, battery management systems, safety features, and autonomous driving functionality.

Industrial IoT

In industrial settings, OTA allows remote management and updates of sensors, controllers, gateways, and other equipment reducing downtime.

Medical Devices

Medical device makers use OTA updates to deploy improved patient monitoring algorithms, updated health metrics, and bug fixes to regulated hardware like insulin pumps.

Smart Home

Smart home platforms use OTA to deploy new capabilities to door locks, cameras, appliances, lighting, security systems, and more within people’s homes.

The Future of OTA Updates

OTA update technology will continue expanding in usage and impact going forward:

  • More industries beyond consumer tech and automotive will adopt OTA updates as a core part of product design and lifecycle management.
  • The scale and frequency of updates will increase exponentially as the number of connected devices grows.
  • OTA updates will enable breakthrough capabilities like remote control of robots, drone swarms, and modular industrial equipment.
  • Machine learning will help optimize the OTA process from efficient package distribution to intelligent and predictive update scheduling.
  • Blockchain and distributed ledger technology may play a role in securing the end-to-end OTA process across ecosystems.
  • OTA will be a critical enabler for continuously maintaining, improving, and evolving devices and systems over multi-year lifecycles.

Overall, OTA update capabilities will be a fundamental component of digitally transforming physical products, driving new business models, and delivering ongoing value to customers. The technology landscape will come to expect secure, wireless, continuous OTA updates as a must-have feature across nearly all connected hardware and systems. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1: What equipment do I need for OTA TV?

Ans. An HDTV antenna to receive signals and a TV with a built-in ATSC tuner or an external tuner box are the two essential components. May also need a coaxial cable and a signal amplifier.

Q2: Does weather affect the OTA signal?

Ans. Yes, factors like heavy rain, snow, and wind can lead to temporary disruption of OTA signals and cause pixelation or loss of reception.

Q3: Can I combine OTA with streaming?

Ans. Absolutely. OTA provides free access to broadcast channels which can be supplemented with streaming services. Many smart TVs integrate OTA channels within the interface.

Q4: How many channels can I get with OTA?

Ans. You can expect to receive the major broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS plus several independents and subchannels. The average is around 50 channels.

Q5: Is OTA reception legal?

Ans. Yes, receiving over-the-air broadcast signals through an antenna is completely legal and does not require any license or fees in the United States.

Andrea Wilson
Andrea Wilson

Andrea Wilson is an expert in finding simple and cost-effective alternatives to traditional TV. With years under her belt, she's a trusted voice in the cord-cutting community.

She has dedicated countless hours to in-depth research, guiding viewers how to stream their favourite shows without a cable subscription. she's an avid hiker, a mystery novel enthusiast and a dog lover.