October 21, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

FAQ: The lowdown on mobile TV

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MobiTV's streaming television service over its existing data network called EDGE. It will also offer video over its new 3G network when it is deployed. For $10 per month, Cingular Wireless MobiTV subscribers get access to unlimited viewing of 25 channels. In addition to the MobiTV subscription, customers must also sign up for a data package, which ranges from $4.99 per month for 1 MB of data usage to a $19.99 package for unlimited data usage.

Can mobile viewers get video from anyone other than a cellular carrier?
Yes, SmartVideo offers live and on demand TV service to mobile devices running Microsoft's Windows operating system. The company sells directly to customers and requires users to download the software to access video content. The service costs $12.95 per month for about 12 basic channels and an additional $4.95 for premium channels. Users must also subscribe to a data usage package from their cell phone provider.

How popular is mobile TV in the U.S.?
According to the industry research firm the Yankee Group, only about 500,000 people subscribe to a mobile TV service today. That's small potatoes considering there are roughly 200 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S.

Who is watching TV on their cell phones?
Experts say the typical mobile TV viewer is between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. About two-thirds of current viewers are male, said Dave Whetstone, chief marketing officer for MobiTV.

Do you need a special handset to watch TV on your phone?
Yes, most new 3G handsets on the market today will handle some video. MobiTV, which powers the Sprint and Cingular services, supports between 50 and 60 different handsets. But compatibility depends on the carrier used. Companies like Samsung, LG, Sanyo, Motorola, Nokia and Palm all make these phones.

How much do the phones cost?
In the U.S., some carriers may offer video-enabled phones for free. Palm's Treo is considered a high-end device, and it costs around $350. In South Korea, Samsung's SCH-100 swivel-head screen phone used to deliver video over a special satellite network costs about $700.

What is the quality of the video?
Video quality depends on several factors, including the quality of the phone and the network that it is sent over. On a 3G cellular network, video runs at 15 frames per second, while regular broadcast television runs at 30 frames per second. Sprint and Cingular also allow users to view video over their existing cell networks, which can run as slow as 3 to 4 frames per second. The phone itself can also determine the quality of the video. The more processing power available in the device, the better the video will look.

Can the cellular network really handle television?
It depends. Some analysts say that if too many people sign up for video services, current and newly built 3G wireless networks could be overwhelmed. This is what happened in South Korea when carriers initially rolled out streaming video services there. Within eight to nine months, the network became congested with video traffic. SK Telecom quickly realized that a new approach was necessary. So it built a separate satellite network to broadcast its mobile TV service.

Several technology companies, such as Qualcomm and Nokia, as well as standards bodies, are already working on solutions.

Are there other technology hurdles that need to be worked out before mobile TV becomes a hit in the U.S.?
Yes, currently wireless carriers each have separate networks that do not share common standards and as a result don't hand off calls. This differs from the traditional telephone network that passes off calls among carriers.

Handset makers also don't use common standards. Instead, they use proprietary operating systems and application development platforms. What's more, screen sizes and processing capabilities also vary among cell phones and PDAs.

Put these all together and you've got a very fragmented market, which makes it more difficult for companies like MobiTV and GoTV, which produces video clips for cell phone carriers, to deliver content quickly to the mass market. Because of all these differences in the networks and the handsets, they have to customize the distribution for each type of phone.

Another obstacle is battery life. Right now, most phones run out of battery after two or three hours of television viewing. This might not be a problem for earlier adopters, but it likely won't fly with mainstream America.

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5 comments

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It 's a total flop in Israel.
A service of this type exists in Israel and
gets no attention whatsoever. Who wants to watch the TV on such a tiny screen ? A year after the introduction of 3G services and heavy campaigns all over the media, only 1 percent of cellular subscribers bought those sets even though they are not expensive at all ! Hype, Hype, Hype..
Posted by bar86 (26 comments )
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Small Screens are a Non Starter
You can add solid Narrowband (EV-DO and CIngular) bandwidth and special features and have the greates small video content around but until you increase the screen size you are going to have limited success using Cell Phones to watch and interact with these video programs. Size does counts folks.
Now if you could get the carriers to quit fearing the PDA and allow the vendors to make these devices with large screens/WiFi/Bluetooth and cellphone access in sufficient volume you would have a great package. They also need to quit fearing the power of the emerging WiFi Mesh Networks (and its VoWLAN capabilities) being deployed in the USA and incorporate it into their plans, we (local Service providers) might be able to deliver a successful product.

Jacomo
Posted by jacomo (115 comments )
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Oh no more mobile grunge!
Oh well, since a vast majority of programs, that make it to TV are mediocre grunge, and a majority of TV news has now degenerated to the point of becoming nothing better than propaganda since the US Presidential election 2000(alas on count back jnr didn't have the legal majority, but won on the blitzkrieg of the propaganda storm of his creation, forcing the real winners to capitulate and again in '03 Iraq WMD Media embeddded Military Campaign is but one of the many classic examples of that genre, and many more exist, where the big four Media Combines routinely & deliberately filters and sanitizes the news at the behest of anonymous unelected government officials, prior to the release to the masses) Oh, well, little wonder why it is unpopular, for who indeed wants to view the mobile version of this grunge on a 2" screen, when you can view it in all it's glory on your 100" plus video display unit!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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Orb.com missing...
Interesting article however I believe you missed inclusion of the streaming of live and recorded TV via the free orb.com service.
Posted by dovad (5 comments )
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anyone doing it themselves?
just curious..

is anyone else out there attempting to stream their own TV/Video to their cellphone??

i'm still working on the process but am getting very close!
i'm using Darwin Streaming Server, Quicktime, and a Sony W800i cellphone...

too bad T-Mobile's networks are so slow and limited in bandwidth....
Posted by seamonkey420 (72 comments )
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