Reding Riles Mobile TV Players

European Commissioner Viviane Reding kicked up a storm of controversy again this week with an announcement to promote the Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H) broadcast standard for mobile TV in Europe. (See EC Backs DVB-H.)

Not content with shaking up the industry with threats of a European regulator and slashing mobile operators' roaming fees, Reding has now riled the mobile TV sector. (See Reding Rattles Regulatory Saber.)

Fed up with waiting for the industry to decide on a standard approach to mobile TV, Reding has jumped in and decided on DVB-H. The European Commission will add DVB-H to the official list of standards and "thereby legally encourage its use in all 27 member states."

Technically this is not a mandate. But the Commission warns that it will consider mandating the standard next year.

Needless to say, supporters of the other mobile TV standards are not amused. These standards include Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s Media Forward Link Only (MediaFLO), Terrestrial Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (T-DMB), Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB), and Multimedia Broadcast/Multicast Service (MBMS).

The World DMB Forum , the industry group that represents the DMB variety of standards, charges that the Commission has ignored its own counsel's advice to have a platform-neutral approach to mobile TV.

"Members of World DMB continue to be mystified by the Commission's unilateral support of DVB-H," said the organization in a press statement.

The European mobile operators' interest group, GSM Europe , is also wary of governments mandating standards. "It's too early to designate a single technology," says Eirini Zafeiratou, director of GSM Europe. "We embrace all sorts of technologies."

So is a standard like MediaFLO now effectively shut out of Europe? "Absolutely not," says Kamil Grajski, president of the FLO Forum and a vice president of engineering at Qualcomm. "Today's communication validates the excitement and potential around mobile TV in Europe."

The Commission believes that commercial launches of mobile TV services are being delayed because of the lack of a single standard. It's also looking to successful services in South Korea, Japan, and the U.S., and does not want Europe to be left too far behind.

Some believe the Commission's new policy will kickstart the mobile TV market in Europe.

"The fact that the Commission has intervened will accelerate the uptake of mobile TV in Europe," says Jim Morrish, senior consultant at Analysys . "The single factor holding people back [on investment decisions] is which way the technology decision is going to go."

But, according to one industry source, the only plausible explanation why Commissioner Reding has devoted so much time to mobile TV would be that she wants to be on TV.

Promoting one standard over others goes against the European Commission's policy of technical neutrality, which allows any technology to be used in any spectrum.

Not all of the new mobile TV policy is controversial, however. The Commission also calls for mobile broadcasting spectrum to be made available as quickly as possible, and this is widely welcomed. The Commission will urge member states to make spectrum available for mobile TV in the UHF band (470 MHz to 862 MHz). This is the so-called "digital dividend" of spectrum that will be freed up when Europe switches from analog to digital TV.

GSM Europe is particularly keen on this point because its members want to use that spectrum not just for mobile TV but also for mobile broadband.

DVB-H does have some traction in Europe, with operator trials and big vendors developing products, notably Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Nokia Networks . (See ALU Targets Mobile TV, Nokia Siemens Reveals Product Picks, DVB Blankets 3GSM, Orange Trials Thomson DVB-H, Mobilkom Austria Pilots DVB-H, 3 Ireland Trials DVB-H , SFR, AlcaLu Pilot DVB-SH, TDC Tests DVB-H, and Vfone Portugal Trials DVB-H.)

Italy is Europe's most advanced mobile TV market, where 3 Italia has its own DVB-H network and more than 600,000 mobile TV customers. (See Bazalgette's Mobile Dis-Content and SA Rates Italian Mobile TV.)

But for some in the industry, that's just not enough to justify the Commission's moves to single out one standard over the others.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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