October 3, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Tight squeeze for mobile TV
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available. Currently, at least three such technologies are being developed: DVB-H, DMB and MediaFlo.
The verdict is still out on which method operators and handset makers will adopt. DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting ? Handhelds) is already being tested in Berlin; Helsinki, Finland; Oxford, England; and Pittsburgh. Handset maker Nokia and Crown Castle, which sells wholesale wireless capacity to other carriers, are testing the technology in Pittsburgh. Crown expects to start offering the portable TV broadcasting service next year.
DMB, or Digital Mobile Broadcast, is a standard developed in South Korea. It works much like digital radio in that country.
And then there is MediaFlo, a technology developed by wireless handset and chipmaker Qualcomm. MediaFlo consists of an end-to-end network that uses new wireless transmitters and receivers. Qualcomm doesn't plan to sell video services directly to consumers, but will offer wholesale access to its network for providers offering mobile TV service. Mobile operators will be able to offer from 15 to 20 channels of broadcast-quality TV. The service is expected to be commercially available by the end of 2006.
The benefits of using dedicated broadcast technology are obvious, but it will require operators to upgrade portions of their network. It will also require customers to buy new handsets.
Another potential consequence of building these separate broadcast networks is that it could take some control away from the cellular phone providers. Because these networks could be accessed by anyone, content providers could sell their brand directly to consumers, cutting out the mobile operators entirely.
So far, mobile operators aren't saying much about their plans for the future, but many have acknowledged they are looking into new technologies.
"We've said publicly that we're looking at MediaFlo, but that's all I can say about it," Sprint's Knoop said.
But most experts acknowledge that it's unlikely mobile operators will face a problem in the short term, because mobile TV isn't likely to take off for at least another two years.
"MobiTV says they have 500,000 subscribers," analyst Lin said. "But that's out of a total of 175 million cellular subscribers. That doesn't sound like a significant market to me yet. Despite all the promotions and hype, I don't think the volume is really going to be significant until at least 2007. And by then, these new technologies should be available to the market."
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