Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Standards row puts brakes on mobile TV in Europe

Reuters | Tue Sep 6, 2005 11:21 AM ET9
By Georgina Prodhan

BERLIN (Reuters) - Television addicts need no longer be couch potatoes if electronics makers have things their way -- soon they will simply be able to pick up the set and take it with them, without missing a frame of their favorite program.

Mobile TV is already available on a portable set, laptop or cellphone near you -- at least if you live in South Korea. Europeans admiring the portable TVs at the world's biggest consumer-electronics fair in Berlin will have to wait a while.

Handheld TVs with screens measuring some 7 inches diagonally and weighing about 450 grams (1 pound) are perfect for stowing in your bag and are available from Korea's LG Electronics (066570.KS: Quote, Profile, Research), Samsung (005930.KS: Quote, Profile, Research) and Perstel.

The dinky sets have picture quality comparable with that of standard television, and, with price tags of around $500, are clearly ready for the mass market.

Mobile phones with screens and antennae are also on the market, from LG, Samsung, and Pantech&Curitel (063350.KS: Quote, Profile, Research).

But, unlike in South Korea -- where mobile TV is already being broadcast and a full commercial service with interactive touch screens is expected to be launched in December -- in Europe, a row over standards is holding up progress.

Klaus Illgner, managing director of Germany's Institut fuer Rundfunktechnik (IRT), the public broadcasters' research institute, says the broadcast and reception technology exists but without the right network mobile television won't happen.

"The whole thing only has a chance if all the parties -- broadcasters, network operators, mobile operators -- work together," he told Reuters.


Currently, in Germany, it is possible to receive television signals via handheld devices but the digital DVB-T standard being introduced as analog TV is gradually phased out only has patchy coverage.

In addition, too much movement while watching a program will disturb the signal -- except in cars, where a ready supply of electricity and powerful aerials help.

Illgner says DVB-T, which is scheduled to cover 95 percent of Germany by 2010, was in any case not designed for interactive TV -- which is needed for the premium services that rake in money for operators.

Now the question is whether to build a network with another standard, DVB-H, or whether to use the DMB standard that South Korea uses. Both standards have similar capabilities.

Illgner says the problem will be to thrash out a business model between content providers, infrastructure suppliers and mobile operators. "Who gets how much of the cake?"

Meanwhile, DVB-H pilots are being carried out in several European countries by the Broadcast Mobile Convergence Forum, an association whose members include Nokia (NOK1V.HE: Quote, Profile, Research), Philips (PHG.AS: Quote, Profile, Research) and Vodafone (VOD.L: Quote, Profile, Research).

In Europe, Illgner says, Finland is probably closest to having a functioning mobile television system, with Germany striving to build something that can at least be demonstrated by next year's soccer World Cup.


Assuming the political hurdles can be overcome, there are still technical challenges -- such as the large amount of electricity used by mobile TV, which means that the battery life of most handheld devices is only enough for 2-3 hours' viewing.

Exactly the same problem helped to hold up the mass take-up of 3G, multimedia phones.

"They need to do something about that," said Jihun Cha, a senior engineer at South Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, which helped develop the DMB standard.

He said so far around 5,000 Perstel DMB 132s, an early-to-market handheld television, had been sold.

And then there is the question of whether people will really feel they need television on the move.

David Steel, Samsung's consumer-electronics marketing chief, gives this answer: "Twenty years ago people said: 'I have a phone at home and one at work. Why do I need a phone in my pocket? It's the same thing with TV now."

IRT's Illgner thinks people are ready. "I'm 100-percent sure it will be a super system. Everyone gets the point right away."

(Additional reporting by Lucas van Grinsven)

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++ Related

Unstrung Insider | Mobile TV: Switching on the Revenue Stream | 8 Sept 2005

Mobile TV is set to become a breakthrough, mass-market mobile data service, based on feedback from pioneering services offered by major global operators such as Orange, Vodafone, and SK Telecom, finds a new report from the subscription research service Unstrung Insider ( ).

The report, entitled Mobile TV: Switching on the Revenue Stream, identifies the introduction of mobile TV over 3G and satellite broadcast networks as a burgeoning success story, with monthly usage already at more than 1 million sessions per month at some operators.

"There's a lot of mileage in unicast mobile TV as a lure to attract high-value 3G subscriptions," says report author and Unstrung Insider Chief Analyst Gabriel Brown. "The power is its simplicity: Everyone already knows how to watch TV."

The report also covers the upcoming introduction of dedicated mobile broadcast networks based on DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld), DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcast), and MediaFLO technologies, which make more efficient use of radio resources for mass-market, one-to-many media services.

Among the report's key findings:

* Sub-$10/month services will be essential to drive uptake of mobile TV, but from there operators can increase data revenues from the technology-indifferent user base.

* Multicast over 3G has many theoretical attractions for "clip cast" services, but it will take several years to gain significant momentum. Look for enhanced multicast mechanisms in upcoming 3GPP and 3GPP2 specifications.

* Most operators currently take a technology-neutral stance with respect to mobile broadcast technology – even those that have tested DVB-H say they are not yet committed to that roadmap.

* DVB-H has the momentum as today's leading contender for dedicated mobile broadcast networks – especially in Europe. But issues surrounding spectrum allocation in many developed regions looks set to slow down the commercialization of services.

* If Qualcomm's MediaFLO technology delivers what it claims, on the timeline it claims, it could upset DVB-H as the automatic mobile broadcast technology choice. Delays to mobile broadcast spectrum allocation work to Qualcomm's advantage.

This report provides critical data and analysis for a wide range of industry participants, including:

* Mobile service providers looking to assess the impact of mobile TV and evaluate the business case for competing mobile broadcast technologies.

* Network equipment, device, and chipset vendors that require competitive market intelligence.

* Investors evaluating the competitive positioning and long-term prospects of mobile service providers worldwide

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