Content & Wireless: A Bad Vegas Wedding
On the show floor, vendors wowed crowds with demonstrations of competing technologies that will let carriers offer the service without incurring massive transport costs. (See Mobile TV Faces Tech Battle.)
Two of the competing technologies include MediaFLO (forward line only) and DVB-H (digital video broadcast -- handheld.) Both run across UHF spectrum, and both are in early trials. The two are roughly divided between the CDMA and GSM cellular camps.
Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) owns and runs MediaFLO USA, which runs its service across UHF channel 55. The technology requires 30 to 50 percent fewer towers than traditional cellular systems, according to Qualcomm officials. (See MediaFLO Demos CTIA.)
Qualcomm outfitted Vegas with FLO technology for the duration of the show. And on the show floor, MediaFLO demonstrated both a baseball game and a stock-ticker tracking application on several handsets. (Apparently, MediaFLO knows its audience.)
DVB-H is an IP datacasting technology that has the support of Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) -- it's also has passed muster with European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) . (See Vendors Form DVB-H Alliance.)
Modeo LLC , which focuses on nothing but digital TV services, plans to launch DVB-H service in several markets, including New York, by the end of the year. At the show, Modeo demonstrated the service on a new GSM handset from High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498).
Verizon Wireless plans to roll out MediaFLO service in spring 2007.
"The challenge with video today is the transport cost," says Robin Chan, associate director of video programming and business development at Verizon Wireless in Bedminster, N.J. "The beauty of MediaFlo is that it scales."
Chan says the company has yet to work out how it will migrate from its current V-Cast offerings on its cellular network to its MediaFlo services. "We don't want a dog's breakfast of services," he says.
In a CTO panel held here on Wednesday, plenty of divergent views emerged on how to solve the problems common to distributing multimedia content such as music and video over wireless networks.
Among the issues mentioned by panelists: Licensing of content, screen resolution and sound quality of handsets, QOS and "net neutrality," the availability of wireless spectrum, and the lack of standards for mobile media formats.
HBO CTO Bob Zitter appeared to be the most skeptical about the ability of wireless networks to deliver a high-quality video product. He explained that in many cases, HBO is leery of issues such as screen quality, content licensing, and standards.
"When we deliver it to a wireless network, somebody has to make it in a different size and resolution for every device. If this is going to be a viable industry, there have to be different standards," said Zitter. "We will create content that is optimized for the platform."
Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) CTO Phil Wiser sees things a little differently. He said that, rather than taking legacy business models into the wireless world, content companies should increasingly adapt to Internet models.
"The content industry always seems to want to come up with complex business models," said Wiser. "You really have to keep it simple. The reality is a very flat, simple business model wins out. If you take bandwidth to infinity, consumers will expect to access their digital library anywhere. That's what they want."
Wiser had an example of how quality becomes less of an issue on wireless networks. He told the story of how Sony worked with the rock band AC/DC to use their music for ringtones:
"[First] they just about threw me out of the room. They said: 'You're going to take my art and put it on that tiny speaker?' But when the money starts to flow, that changes things really quickly." [Ed. note: In other words, every "artist" has his price.]
"It's about command and control," Richard Lynch, CTO of Verizon Wireless, observed. "We can't, in a wireless environment, ever expect to compete in speeds with [wired networks]. The customer these days doesn't care what network they are on."
— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, and R. Scott Raynovich, Editor in Chief, Light Reading