Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Mobile TV needs magnification

Mobile TV needs magnification

Mobile telephones will not move fully into the live TV market until the standards are agreed and the business models clarified.

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So you think you’ll never watch mobile TV? Then how is it that the iTunes Music Store sold just over one million music videos, TV episodes and short movies in just 20 days?

The mobile TV market is surging, with the mobile phone emerging as a credible platform. With mobile phone penetration among adults in the western world almost total, and with handset sophistication improving, it is unsurprising that content producers and operators see this as a major opportunity.

Operators have not held back. Orange provides 50 channels of TV to its French customers; Verizon’s US vCast service has been offering video content since January 2005; and Vodafone in the UK is collaborating with BSkyB to provide 19 TV channels, that includes MTV and The History Channel.

All of these suppliers are exploiting the latest, higher bandwidth capabilities of their networks – such as 3G in Europe – to serve video to mobile phones.

But there is a problem, and it is quite a major one: 3G networks are not suited to TV.

“3G does not have the bandwidth simultaneously to supply handsets with the quality real-time content that users want,” says Peter Cochrane, former chief technology officer of BT. “The handsets still suffer poorer battery life and performance than their 2.5G counterparts. And bandwidth turns out to be closer to 56Kbps for reasonably populated mobile coverage.”

Most specialists think that true mobile TV will require a technology similar to broadband. There are currently a number of competing standards, all with their advantages and disadvantages (see box Competing standards). Japan has its own standard, STD-B24, while Qualcomm, originator of the Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) mobile phone technology, has gained some traction in the US with its proprietary MediaFLO technology. But a lack of support from handset manufacturers means that MediaFLO is likely to stay US-only or die out reasonably quickly.

With the market still nascent, the standard that looks likely to win is Digital Video Broadcasting to Handsets (DVB-H), a technology derived from Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial (DVB-T). Its main competitor is Terrestrial Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (T-DMB), an extension of the digital radio Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) standard.

“There are advantages to both,” says Andrew Moloney, marketing manager of Radioscape, a radio software provider. “DVB-H makes more sense for urban areas,” he says, “whereas T-DMB is better suited to remote areas.”

But while T-DMB requires less of the radio spectrum to work compared with DVB-H, making it more suitable for areas with fewer transmitters and for countries that have little free radio spectrum, this acts against it for revenue generation. “T-DMB’s small bandwidth means you can only fit in four channels,” says Yannick Levy, CEO of specialist processor manufacturer Dibcom. “To offer 30 or 40 channels will cost four to five times as much as it would with DVB-H.”

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