Close encounters of the third kind

Mobile TV has long been touted as the next ‘killer application' in the telecommunications sector.

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By  Ronan Shields Published  June 28, 2008

Competing technology standards, political manoeuvrings and the emergence of new delivery platforms continue to impact the development of mobile TV services or the ‘third screen as it is dubbed by broadcasters. Ronan Shields investigates.

Mobile TV has long been touted as the next ‘killer app' in the telecommunications sector, with many claiming it has the potential to bolster flagging revenue streams for both mobile network operators and broadcasters.

Dubbed the ‘third screen' by industry players, the progress of mobile TV services has struggled under the weight of technological and regulatory standards which have thus far hindered it from achieving mass-market acceptance.

The European Union's recent endorsement of DVB-H has led many industry observers to predict the technology is primed to become the universal platform for the delivery of digital content to end-users worldwide.

However, there have been rumblings of discontent about the technology among European service providers in recent months, largely relating to the platform's cost of implementation.

Complicating matters further is the fact that US chipmaker Qualcomm, whose MediaFLO platform was recently endorsed by the US government as the country's mobile TV platform, is also eyeing expansion into international markets.

DVB-H struggling for traction

European DVB-H advocates often point to the success of DVB-H deployments in Italy as a demonstration of the commercial potential of the technology.

Figures recently released by 3 Italia, one of Italy's biggest DVB-H platform operators, suggest that the average revenue per-user (ARPU) generated by DVB-H service subscriptions is 60 percent higher than that of voice subscriptions.

However, Paul Goode, senior analyst and vice president of market intelligence firm, M:Metrics, claims mobile TV subscription retention rates in Italy are waning.

Goode is not alone in this assertion. David Percival, a director and telecoms and media expert at global consulting firm PRTM, also noted that DVB-H service cancellations outnumbered new subscriptions in the Western European country.

Adding fuel to the fire is industry speculation that suggests that Finnish infrastructure and handset giant Nokia withheld the launch of DVB-H-compatible handsets in its domestic market in December 2007.

Speculation from industry sources intimates that Nokia was wary of the impact any potential commercial failure could have on its business, given that Finnish broadcasters were struggling to source content for the DVB-H mobile TV service at the time.

It is worth noting however, that not all operators in Europe are questioning the commercial viability of the platform.

Similar to the glut of European mobile TV launches in the build-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Dutch pan-European operator KPN will introduce its own DVB-H services in Holland ahead of this summer's two biggest international sporting events, UEFA's Euro 2008 and the Beijing Olympic Games.

Mobile operator Swisscom also launched a DVB-H service last month in a bid to cash in on the expected demand for sporting content from cellular service subscribers.

KPN executives recently revealed that the company had withdrawn its 3G mobile TV streaming offering after service quality issues led many users to either cancel their subscriptions or churn to a rival network.

They also confirmed that the company was considering investing in a standalone DVB-H network, arguing that it could provide operational gains outside its core network services such as voice and other data offerings.

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