Optical/IP Networks

Mobile TV Faces Tech Battle

The technology battle to find the standard of choice for the delivery of mobile TV services is unlikely to herald a winner anytime soon, according to the latest Unstrung Insider.

The report -- Mobile TV: Switching On the Revenue Stream -- cites three main ways to deliver TV and video services to mobile users: "Push & Store" with local playback; streaming over 3G mobile data networks; and dedicated mobile broadcast networks.

As with music on iPods, the idea behind Push & Store technology is that users can download their own content from the Internet over home broadband connections for free, or for a small fee, and then load this, via USB links, onto mobile video devices. A number of consumer electronics vendors are working on such products, and several have already been launched on the market. Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), for example, recently launched a “video iPod” with a 20-GByte hard drive that holds up to 30 hours of media.

“As advances in memory card technology make storage on mobile phones cheaper and more practical (smaller), this kind of playback is likely to become more popular,” writes report author Gabriel Brown. “At a minimum, it’s clear that mobile operators' TV services will have to compete in a market in which local playback is widespread.”

However, the really interesting battle appears to be between 3G streaming and mobile broadcast technologies.

Mobile TV services delivered via 3G streaming are similar to media-file download services offered by all 3G providers today, apart from the fact that the TV feed is encoded and made available to the mobile user in real time. To date, the likes of Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE), Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. (NYSE: RCN; Toronto: RCM), SFR, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) have all used their 3G packet-switched networks to offer live TV trial services (see Orange Launches MobiTV).

In addition, there is also serious interest in dedicated, terrestrial mobile TV broadcast networks, with several operators around the world now involved in small-scale trials.

The majority of broadcast mobile TV trials have been based on DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast – Handheld) technology and supported by Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). DVB-H is a variant on the DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcast – Terrestrial) standard already used in several European countries for digital TV services. The essential difference is that DVB-H implements "time-slicing," a power-saving technique that takes advantage of the fact that the service the user wants to watch is only transmitted for a fraction of the time, due to the fact that there are multiple services carried in one multiplex. This allows the RF front-end to be turned off when the desired service is not being transmitted. The device therefore consumes less power.

O2 Ltd. (NYSE: OOM) today became the latest carrier to trial DVB-H technology, talking up a deployment in Oxford, England (see O2 Trials Mobile TV). Other names in the frame include SFR, KPN Mobile, Telefònica Mòviles SA, and Telstra Corp.

Other competing mobile broadcast technologies include Qualcomm Inc.'s (Nasdaq: QCOM) MediaFLO, and Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) and its variant Digital Multimedia Broadcast (DMB).

MediaFLO is the newest contender vying for the mobile broadcast heavyweight belt and has not yet been endorsed by any major standards development organization, but DAB technology has already been trialed by Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd. in London. DAB has had some success providing radio services and has limited capacity for video transmission. As a result, DMB technology has emerged as a variant of DAB, and is optimized for multimedia transmission. French network provider VDL; German broadcasting authority BLM; and Korean carrier SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) have trialed DMB services.

Despite carrier interest in all three main methods of delivering mobile TV services, it is unclear which technology will end up ruling the airwaves. 3G streaming may have caught the interest of the big-name carrier players, but there is an increasingly widespread view that mobile TV will ultimately require a dedicated mobile broadcast network to deliver the range of programming the mass market will want.

And it’s still unknown which acronym in that space will be widely favored. “Most broadcast and mobile network operators emphasized that they are remaining technology-neutral with respect to mobile broadcast technology,” notes Brown. “Even those that have already trialed DVB-H say they are not yet committed to that roadmap.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

The report, Mobile TV: Switching On the Revenue Stream, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Unstrung Insider, priced at $1,350. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.unstrung.com/insider.

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