October 21, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
FAQ: The lowdown on mobile TV
(continued from previous page)
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.
5 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment