Last month, Juniper Research released a report likely to strike fear in the hearts of operators betting on consumers' willingness to pay for mobile TV content. In "Opportunities for Streamed & Broadcast Services, 2008-2013," Juniper projects that by 2013 some 330 million people worldwide will have handsets that can receive analog and digital broadcast TV signals — but less than 14 percent of them will sign up for pay mobile TV services.
"The development of terrestrial TV-capable receivers with comparatively low power consumption, and the availability of these receivers in mass market handsets, throws into question the business case for the deployment of a dedicated network in many markets," said report author Dr. Windsor Holden.
In Germany, Mobile 3.0's DVB-H trial flopped when operators started promoting their own TV-capable phones designed to receive DVB-T signals for free — undermining Mobile 3.0’s pay TV business model.
Last July, Toshiba shut down its Japanese satellite mobile TV subsidiary, Mobile Broadcasting, because the subscriber base wasn't big enough to support the business. But it wasn't because the Japanese aren't watching mobile TV. In fact, shipments of handsets able to receive Japan's free 1-seg mobile TV service continue to soar according to the Japan Electronics Information Technology Association — 10 million in the first half of 2008, bringing the total of 1-seg units shipped to 30 million.
Of course, the situation is markedly different in the United States where carriers have a lock on the handsets available to subscribers. And so far, that has effectively stifled competition from devices that can receive free-to-air TV. But with more free-to-air devices hitting the market, it's reasonable to question whether that trend will continue indefinitely.
In another announcement last month, IHT reported that France presented plans to set aside about a fifth of the country's prime television broadcasting spectrum for mobile Internet and television services by the end of 2009, in what supporters described as a major step toward creating a harmonized mobile broadband network in Europe.
France is the first major European country to reserve part of its most valuable broadcasting spectrum, the so-called UHF band, for mobile broadband and video services. Finland and Sweden have also said they plan to reserve the band for mobile services.
If a Europewide broadband network were to come to fruition, its greater scale would probably push down the cost of Internet services to consumers, especially in rural areas not reached by fast, fixed-line networks. It could also enable large mobile operators to sell services, like mobile TV or mobile broadband, across national borders, further increasing competition and lowering consumer prices.
The move was hailed by mobile operators and by the European Union's telecommunications commissioner, Viviane Reding, who is proposing that her office be given a greater role in influencing how EU countries redistribute the frequency.
The French plan, disclosed by Eric Besson, a French state secretary responsible for evaluation of public policies, commits France to reserving 72 megahertz of prime spectrum that is currently being used exclusively by television broadcasters - the 790 MHz to 862 MHz band - for mobile broadband services by the end of next year.
Besson said the country's broadcasters would be able to use the remaining portion of the UHF spectrum - 470 MHz to 790 MHz. He said that would still be enough to support 11 terrestrial broadcasters plus two new mobile TV broadcasters, owned either by mobile operators or TV broadcasters.
Sami said the French plan would most likely influence other European nations to make a similar redistribution. Britain, he said, is also leaning toward devoting a portion of that spectrum, from 806 MHz to 862 MHz, for mobile services.
In Germany, DVB-H licensee Mobile 3.0 handed back its licence to local regulators. The return of the licence was ordered by the authority for private broadcasters - Zulassungs- und Aufsichtskommission für den privaten Rundfunk (ZAK) - because Mobile 3.0 did not meet the conditions of the licence. It is not sure when a new licence will be issued. Meanwhile DVB-T carries on its success with LG planning to launch another handset model before Christmas.
In Switzerland, Take-up of the mobile TV service from Swisscom is not meeting expectations, according to Swisscom Broadcast chief Jean-Paul de Weck, speaking during the Biel Bienne Communication Days (Comdays). The main reason for the slow acceptance is the lack of choice of DVB-H capable handsets. Up until the end of September, the Nokia N77 was the only handset available to receive the service, though now there are four different models. Swisscom currently has about 5,000 mobile TV users, though it expects to gain more subscribers with the wider choice of handsets.
Qualcomm is now to give some more attention to its mobile TV standard of MediaFLO. This is because they no longer have to worry about UMB (see this). Outlining future strategies, Qualcomm indicated it's focusing more on its MediaFLO mobile broadcast TV and its Firethorn mobile banking technologies to carry it in the near term while it develops its Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless infrastructure and its Snapdragon platform for future inroads in wireless mobile. MediaFLO is operated in 62 markets, but it's expected to get a boost in February when the big switchover to digital TV takes place. Qualcomm purchased $555 million worth of spectrum in the FCC's 700-MHz auction earlier this year, and the purchase will be used to spread MediaFLO. The new spectrum will enable the company to address 108 markets by the end of 2009, according to media reports.
Finaly for some good news:
A large U.S. television broadcaster has announced good results from recent trials in Chicago and Denver of mobile TV using a draft standard from the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). Ion Media Networks, Inc. said it found it relatively easy to set up two mobile channels in each city and reception was better than expected. The Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), an alliance of local and national TV broadcasters, hopes to see members roll out commercial mobile TV services late next year. To date mobile TV services using other technologies have failed to deliver and grow a market among cellphone, notebook and car video users.
Ion Media's stations WCPX and KPXC have been multicasting two standard definition mobile channels since August. LG Electronics and Harris Corp., whose technology was selected for the ATSC standard, provided prototype mobile TV receivers and transmission equipment for the tests.
We're seeing fantastic reception out to as far as 40 miles from transmitters, and beyond that we have good transmission outdoors but it's not consistent indoors," reported Jenkins.
Reception was also good in cars at freeway speeds and indoors within 40 miles of transmitters. "We went into parking garages where there were three or four levels of concrete above us, and reception was perfect--that was one of the big technical lessons," said Jenkins.
Spectrum availability was not a problem in the trial. One station in the trial supports an existing high definition terrestrial broadcast, another supports multiple existing standard def channels.