Mobile markets

Once touted as the next killer application, mobile TV finally appears to be gaining momentum.

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By  Administrator Published  December 25, 2008

Once touted as the next killer application for mobile phones, mobile TV finally appears to be gaining some momentum, according to delegates speaking at the recent IPTV and Mobile TV forum in Dubai.

Mobile TV has long been viewed as the saviour of mobile operators' ARPU rates, but so far it has failed to materialise as a real force in the mobile sector. But the sentiment at this year's IPTV and Mobile TV forum, held in Dubai, was perhaps more upbeat than expected, particularly given the current economic climate.

Indeed, while expectation of mobile TV is now more realistic than a year or two ago, industry insiders are seeing signs that the service may be starting to build a momentum that will begin to propel it into the mainstream.

And one of the drivers of this trend is the take-off of IPTV. A walk around any electronics shop is enough to confirm that IPTV is a mainstream technology and service, and mobile TV may be following close behind.

For Ian Wilkinson, Motorola's IPTV solutions marketing manager, Middle East and Africa, the distinction between IPTV and mobile TV is now redundant, indicating that mobile TV is likely to become increasingly popular as IPTV grows.

"IPTV and mobile TV are one and the same thing and if you can argue that they were separated in the past then in the future you have to accept that they go lock-step together," he says. "The vast majority of the things they do are the same."

The only real difference is the way the picture is conveyed to the screen, whether over cable or wirelessly, according to Wilkinson. "The technology behind them is common, you aim the picture for the target device and aim for the bandwidth you have got to deliver," he adds. "So if you are delivering over fibre you are not really worried about that but if you are delivering over a wireless network then you pick the bandwidth that network can deliver."

But one of the main barriers to wide adoption of mobile TV is now being overcome, with 3G technology, WiMAX - and soon Long Term Evolution (LTE) - able to provide the necessary bandwidth. Wilkinson says that while LTE, or fourth generation wireless technology, might lack the capability of cable, it is "a step in that direction".

And this is significant for mobile TV, which requires far less bandwidth than IPTV for bigger screens such as home TV sets. "It is easy to imagine as these things develop further that the distinction between a fibre connection and a wireless connection is going to start to get blurred," Wilkinson adds.

You are never going to be able to deliver the absolute amount you can over fibre but once you can deliver video you are well on the path because from a consumer point of view they shouldn't need to worry about that."

Wilkinson thinks IPTV will move into the mainstream "imminently". And he thinks demand from sports fans could turn out to be a key driver. "The operators have it now. They have done test transmissions. It is really how to frame the commercial launch. To me, sport is probably going to be the trigger, because soccer works wonderfully in high definition - especially if your team is winning," he jokes.

"In South Africa, the 2010 World Cup is going to give a boost...the building blocks are in place, the operators are ready, it is just the final stages of the business."

And from here, it is not difficult to see mobile TV gaining greater momentum, perhaps through triple-play and quad-play deals from the operators, where mobile TV could be bundled with an IPTV service.

With the take-up of triple play and quad play - or "media mobility" as Motorola prefers to call it - IPTV and mobile TV, fixed-line and mobile, converge together.

"The consumer has the media where they want it and when they want it. That seems to be an easier concept to grasp. That has petty much an unstoppable momentum now and HD gives it a boost," Wilkinson says.

And the good news for Middle East operators is that while overall IPTV uptake in the region is lower than most Western countries, the growth rate is higher. "This is a smaller market but it is a much more active market both in video and mobile everything," Wilkinson says. "The growth curves here are much bigger than in Europe, and that's what makes it interesting in this market."

Global standards

There is a wide choice of technologies for operators. While the European Union has adopted DVB-H as its preferred standard, many others are in use around the world.

The largest adoption of mobile TV has occurred in Asia, where usage of services is counted in the millions. In Japan, there are an estimated 40,000,000 users with ISDB-T enabled devices. In South Korea, 15,000,000 users have T-DMB devices and 2,000,000 have S-DMB, according to figures from the Broadcast Mobile Convergence Forum.

Marco Maestri, mobile TV solutions director of H3G Italy says that as mobile TV is still at an early stage it is impossible to predict how it will evolve and appear in the long term. "If we have to be frank, we really don't know the way it will look in the long run," he says.

But, he adds, the ARPU of mobile TV customers is significantly higher than that of regular mobile users. He estimates that mobile TV customers ARPU is as much as 60% higher than the average in H3G Italy's mobile market.

Maestri says that usage appears to centre on some key categories of content. "Football and glamour has the highest stay time for us, while weather has the lowest," he says.

Before the Italian football league started, users averaged 30-40 minutes of viewing, and once the league had kicked off, this rose to up to 60 minutes.

There is some debate about how far along the value chain operators should travel when they structure their mobile TV offering. Greater involvement in content could also mean greater exposure to risk should the venture struggle. Despite this H3G has built its own production and media centre, with a tapeless playout suite and 40 automated cameras to assist in production.

As with IPTV, cost of content can be high. One suggestion for limiting the potential risk is to share it with the content providers, increasing the amount they are paid in line with the rise in number of subscribers.

For Fabian Olivier, director of corporate strategy at UAE network Du, the success of mobile TV has a lot to do with one of those pillars in particular. "Handset manufacturers play a key role," he says, before explaining that accessing the mobile TV menu on Du's network can take five clicks and as long as 1 minute and 40 seconds.

Despite some barriers to adoption, Olivier is upbeat about the future of mobile TV. "Considering the number of TV sets in the world, I can't believe that they won't be interested in mobile TV at some point.

"Mobile TV is a success story in terms of growth," insists Olivier. He admits that in terms of "absolute numbers" Du still has "some improvements to make", but he says subscriber rates are growing at a rate of 20% per month.

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