kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 3:53:43 PM
re: ATSC OKs Mobile TV Standard

The formal approval of the ATSC M/H as the mobile DTV standard A/153 was entirely expected after it was approved as a candidate standard in April 2009 and subsequent field trials. However the issue is how fast the action can pick up now. Mobile TV using FLO technology is now strongly rolling out through mobile industry leaders AT&T ( AT&T Mobile TV) and Verizon( VCAST). FLO had been earlier restricted to only select markets due to the lack of availability of a UHF channel. This hurdle has now been removed. The FLO service is at present operating using just one or two channels ( UHF channels 54/55) across the United states, in the markets where it is available. By all accounts it is a very successful service. It is designed for mobile devices and is not an adaptation of a large screen technology to “also” serve mobile devices. It provides nearly 20 video channels in a 6 MHz spectrum slot, which is way beyond its competitors.

In contrast, by all logic ATSC M/H has the support of TV broadcasters and is likely to have much larger resources at its disposal in terms of ATSC spectrum which is available with TV stations. The variety of TV channels available will also be larger with nearly 800 stations being a part of the open mobile video coalition (OMVC).

However the operators of ATSC M/H services will still need the support of mobile operators for successfully launching the services. This is where the scene gets interesting.

While AT&T and Verizon, with more than 50 % of mobile users amongst them are  for the moment committed to MediFLO, riding on and providing services on its infrastructure, FLO TV is having a robust growth. This leaves T-Mobile and Sprint as the other possible major mobile carriers.

 But looking at the broader market, MediaFLO it is also considering entering distribution on its own. AT&T and Verizon, also have their 3G based mobile TV services, CV and V CAST which provide live streaming mobile TV channels on the 3G networks which have been upgraded to HSPA. These carriers therefore have stakes in boosting their own mobile Video services. One must not forget that their associated businesses of IPTV ( Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse TV) are doing exceedingly well with over 5 million customers and high ARPUs and they have every  reason to use their mobile customer bases which are their assets to leverage to provide 3G based mobile TV to retain the ARPUs at home. An external TV service, therefore is attractive to them only if they get a good revenue share.

The market will therefore be determined by how fast ATSC M/H broadcasters can get deals in place with mobile carriers, to get the chips in the handsets and to get such handsets approved. Quite a list. Many of the channels will be free to air in the initial period, which makes it even more challenging, as there are no revenues to share. But there is no doubt that eventually all the major carriers will come in once the broadcasters have found ways to compensate them.

This of course opens up the market for multiple possibilities. There is little doubt that the broadcasters organized under the OMVC will need the support of mobile operators, some of which have conflicting interests, at least for the moment. But by early 2010, the services should begin to have greater visibility.

One would normally think that free to air mobile TV channels such as in T-DMB networks of Korea should be able to penetrate to a large number of handsets and users. But in Korea, this has required considerable support and push from the government. The situation is similar in Japan where the ISDB-T One segment mobile TV phones which can receive the free to air exceed 60 million. Upto 80% of the new phones sold come with mobile TV tuners built in. The US markets are somewhat different; however, as here the carriers have much greater control on the handsets which can be used in the networks. Perhaps FCC will step in at some point to ensure that handsets with DTV receiver chips do not face any hurdles. In China, the number of cities where CMMB services were available jumped to over 190 and every new 3G handset (TD-SCDMA) to be approved needs to have a CMMB tuner. This alone has boosted the number of users to over 20 million making China the fastest growing market for mobile TV in the world over the last one year. Obviously we cannot expect the same here but then what can we expect?

In any event, the developments in the next two months are like to be fast paced and may lead to some tie ups which may surprise even the seasoned industry observers.


Sign In