August 17, 2001 4:10 PM PDT
Ready for channel surfing on handhelds?
The station is already available through the wired Internet, where anyone visiting AK TV can see the programming, mostly Grade B movies and IKEA infomercials. On Friday, AK TV's reach was expanded to devices based on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.
The debut of the station marks the first time wireless devices in the United States can access videos and movies, although some glitches discovered Friday still need to be resolved, said Alex Kanakaris, chief executive of Kanakaris Wireless, which runs AK TV.
Video on handhelds is one of the long-promised applications for the so-called next generation of telephone networks, which offer always-on connections at broadband speeds. In "3G" networks, wireless users will be able to download video, play interactive games or access e-mail. Carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS plan to have 3G networks in place by mid-2002.
While AK TV's debut shows the technology to stream video to handhelds is already here, analysts and some in the wireless community say it's arrived a little too soon.
The slow speed of existing wireless networks is to blame. Current networks send data at a speed of between 9.6kbps and 14.4kbps. That's five times slower than the 56kbps of a dial-up connection, which is already slow enough to turn streaming video into a series of choppy still images accompanied by out-of-sync audio feeds.
Andrea Linskey, a Verizon spokeswoman, said the United States' largest wireless provider is looking to add video to its smattering of wireless content offerings. But don't look for it in the next few months or even years.
"You need the higher speed," she said. "Right now, the experience is less than rewarding."
Wireless analyst Joe Laszlo of Jupiter Research agrees, although he's holding out some hope that companies like AK TV can survive for another couple of years and test consumer reaction when higher-speed networks are launched.
"It's definitely still premature to talk about broadcasting," Laszlo said. "Survival is tough. It's a tough environment even for companies looking to do streaming media on people's personal computers, much less on wireless devices."
Robin Hearn, a wireless industry analyst for Ovum, called the effort "noble," but perilous.
"Getting this up and running is kind of a noble thing to do," he said. "People won't be doing it over a wireless connection for quite a while to come."
Analysts said AK TV is the first of a growing number of efforts to offer consumers streaming video to handhelds. Celvibe has software powering trials of live TV on cell phones hosted by three European carriers. Another company streaming video is PacketVideo, a heavily financed San Diego company that is also about to undergo trials with carriers.