Eye Candy

'Telly-phones' are already being trialled in various countries worldwide, but it's unclear whether live mobile TV services will go on air for subscribers in the short to medium term.

  • E-Mail
By  Richard Agnew Published  January 12, 2005

|~|MobileTv1.gif|~||~|TVs and mobile phones are the two most successful consumer products ever, so why not see what happens when the two are combined? That’s the gist of the plan behind tests now being conducted by telecoms suppliers and operators to iron out the details of sending digital TV signals to mobile subscribers. After designing a digital video broadcasting standard for handheld devices, DVB-H, their hope is that the broadcasting and mobile industries will team up to offer services based on the technology. Consumers, they predict, will also be prepared to part with a monthly fee to watch some sport or news on their handsets when they have a few minutes to spare. “If the choice is between watching a full screen TV or TV in the handset, the decision will obviously be the former. But for those times when someone is waiting at a train station, airport or in a restaurant, TV in the handset is going to become commonplace,” predicts Alan Varghese, principal analyst of semiconductor research at US-based research house, ABI. Adapting TV content for mobiles is not a new concept, with several operators already offering streamed video over 3G networks, including MTC-Vodafone in Bahrain. Much of the original hype around 3G was also based on its ability to deliver video content at high speeds. Nevertheless, the idea of using a separate network for better quality broadcasts and freeing up bandwidth on 3G networks for more critical applications has already generated interest from network operators and the other elements of the proposed value chain for mobile TV. Nokia, for example, has already trialled a mobile TV system in Germany with Vodafone and is conducting pilots in various other countries, including the US and Finland. The vendor also plans to embark on a trial with O2 and Sony in the UK in the spring of 2005, which will give 500 people in Oxford access to a 16 channel portfolio. “DVB-H will be the next big leap in mobile TV. We are already integrating it into our mass market products,” says Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president and general manager of the handset manufacturer’s multimedia division. Plans are also afoot on the technical side to prepare mobile TV for mass market deployment. Texas Instruments, for example, says it is planning to introduce a chip called Hollywood that will allow handsets to display video at digital TV resolutions, either via DVB-H or a rival Japanese format called Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial (ISDB-T). DVB-H was also formally adopted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) last month as the specification for bringing broadcast services to handheld devices. Nevertheless, even if end-users are attracted by the service, there are still numerous barriers to its deployment. One of the main ones is the availability of the required frequency and infrastructure in individual countries, and regulators’ willingness and ability to free up spectrum for DVB-H deployment. Another is merely the stage at which commercial roll out of DVB-H will technically be possible — Nokia, for example, expects standardisation between DVB-H equipment suppliers to be finalised by the end of 2005 and commercial roll outs to take place shortly after. But analysts point out that mobile TV is also likely to present difficulties for network deployment because of the situations where consumers are likely to use it, such as inside moving vehicles and train stations. “Nokia is talking about 2006 but we believe that’s very optimistic,” says Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for mobile terminals research at Gartner. “There’s still a very confused picture about how DVB-H will work technically and what will be delivered around it. Also, people will tend to watch it in places where they are stuck for a few minutes but delivering it to those places could be an issue,” she adds. Another stumbling block could be the functionality and design of handsets, which will require an additional chipset and integrated battery-powered receiver to receive DVB-H. In order to reduce power consumption in small handheld devices, DVB-H employs a technique called time-slicing, where IP datagrams are transmitted as data bursts in small time slots. The front end of the receiver switches on only in the intervals when the data bursts of a selected service are on air. Nokia also promises to produce TV phones that do not differ aesthetically from today’s advanced handsets and Sony Ericsson says that mobile TV chips should only cost between US$10 and US$15. Considering the early functionality of 3G phones, some observers are yet to be won over, however. “I’m hesitant to believe that mobile TV will gain momentum at this time,” says Ammar Sharaf, chief executive of UAE-based mobile service provider, Mobile Telecoms Group. “People have not yet developed enough interest in video services on mobiles to be interested in watching TV on their mobiles. The screen size and resolution of handsets, as well as other limitations such as battery life, all stand in the way of a successful introduction of mobile TV,” he adds. Analysts also point out that the nature of the service will make it necessary for operators and broadcasters to cooperate to offer the service and agree terms on pricing and revenue sharing. “The whole value chain needs to be worked out and things like digital rights management (DRM) will be a huge hurdle,” says Milanesi. Initial signs of interest from end-users are encouraging, according to Nokia, however. Following its trials in Germany, it claims that 80% of consumers said that they wanted the service and would be prepared to pay around US$15 to US$20 per month for the privilege. “If you go away for ten minutes, you could come back with ten different business models for mobile TV. It’s going to be an interesting entrepreneurial opportunity,” Vanjoki says. Suppliers also argue that GSM operators will play a key role in the mobile TV arena for marketing and authentication of users, despite DVB-H using a separate network. “Cellular connectivity will allow billing and encryption of data to ensure that consumers are who they say they are,” says Richard Sharp, vice president of Nokia’s rich media business programme. “Technically, we need the operators, and commercially, they will play a huge role in understanding the needs of their customers,” he adds. Nevertheless, it also remains to be seen how service providers will position mobile TV against other multimedia offerings in the GSM space such as on-demand video clips, which are more apt for generating additional revenues from sharing between users. By 2006, cellphone users should be able to watch video via their Wi-Fi-enabled phones when they are in range of a high-bandwidth Wi-Fi access point. And they may also be able to download videos for later viewing when they’re back in coverage of mobile infrastructure. “In order to use DVB-H, you have to have the right handset and content,” says Philip Bourchier O’Ferrall, managing director of UK-based mobile streaming technology provider, Oplayo. “TV on a mobile is not going to be highly compelling because the only things people will want to watch are news and the odd bit of sport. They aren’t going to log onto their phone and sit there watching a half hour TV programme. They won’t use it to share clips and to access niche market content. The things that are selling now are fun and sharable content,” he adds. Nevertheless, content providers such as BBC World are already involved in DVB-H trials and say it is unlikely to impact on other methods of delivery. “Our aim is to secure the widest possible distribution for the channel,” says Simon Cottle, network development manager, BBC World. “It’s incumbent on us as a content provider to be imaginative in that way. Mobile TV is a brand new way of viewing material. We’re hoping people will use it for a few minutes and once they get back home, they’ll get the full experience on their TV,” he adds.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code