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Startups Bank on Mobile TV
[February 03, 2006]

Startups Bank on Mobile TV

(Wireless Week Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Mobile TV is one of the hottest topics in the wireless industry and it is generating much discussion about the content, the quality of service, the fees and consumer interest and uptake. Of course, carriers are eager to deliver the best quality mobile TV service at the lowest possible cost, and now there are several new companies that have launched with the intention of helping operators deliver a quality video service while improving the customer experience.

The window of opportunity for these firms may be open right now, but they must be nimble to make the necessary inroads with manufacturers, carriers and content firms if they want their products to succeed.

Toronto-based QuickPlay Media is making the most of its Canadian roots. The company already is working with all of the major Canadian operators, including Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Sasktel Mobility, and hopes to bring that expertise to operators and content firms in other parts of the world particularly the United States.

The company was started in 2005 and is the brainchild of Raja Khanna, the founder of digital media producer Snap Media, and telecom executive Wayne Purboo.

Khanna says the company's main focus is to create and manage rich media over mobile devices, and that includes applications such as voice, audio, rich infotainment services and text images. QuickPlay's platform manages content, merchandizes it and delivers the service over WAP, Java and BREW. "It doesn't matter whether the network is 2.5G or 3G," Khanna says.

There already are several companies in the United States that provide a similar service, including high-profile firms such as MobiTV and GoTV. Khanna says the main difference between those firms and QuickPlay is QuickPlay isn't focused on aggregating content. "This isn't a big part of our company," Khanna says. "We are an enabler. We provide the infrastructure and platform for rich media delivery."

But many U.S. operators, particularly the Tier 1 carriers, already have selected their mobile TV partners and have launched services. That doesn't faze Khanna, who says that he believes the operators are not necessarily happy with their partners because some are trying to assert too much control over the services. QuickPlay hopes to capitalize on this friction.

Operators are key customer targets for QuickPlay, but Khanna says the company also is working with various content firms, helping them deliver their services direct to the consumer. QuickPlay currently has content partnerships with ESPN Mobile Publishing, Fox, BiteTV, E! and others.

Another newcomer to the mobile TV world is Roundbox. The mobile broadcast software firm was founded in 2003 and recently received an $8 million infusion of Series A financing from investors that include Capital Partners and RRE Ventures.

The company sports some high-profile board members, including former CTIA President Tom Wheeler and former Lucent Technologies CEO Rich McGinn.

Roundbox differentiates itself from other software firms by focusing solely on its mobile broadcast applications and client services software. The company's software resides both in the carrier network and the handset. Company President and CEO Dennis Specht says that Roundbox's software supports various mobile TV standards, including FLO and DVB-H, and the firm is active in various standards groups, including the FLO Forum, 3GPP and 3GPP2.

Specifically, the company's software helps operators efficiently deliver content over shared spectrum and allows them to maximize channel capacity on their existing cellular networks while also offering services from out-of-band broadcast networks. "Carriers can deliver this service more efficiently with our software," says Vinod Valloppillil, director of marketing at Roundbox. That is necessary, Valloppillil says, because although 3G networks reduce the cost of delivering data bits to consumers, the bad news is these networks don't reduce the cost enough to get operators to a mass-market price point for mobile video. Plus, many consumers are getting accustomed to a flat-rate data price plan, which amplifies the problems that carriers will have delivering this service economically.

Roundbox executives believe there are other opportunities to use mobile broadcast delivery. For example, the company envisions carriers being able to deliver voice services, such as group push-to-talk or public address messages by narrowcasting a broadcast message to a particular cell site tower. This would be an affordable way to deliver a message to, say, a sports stadium or an airport.

Pittsburgh-based startup Penthera Technologies is just a year old and already is working closely with Modeo, the Crown Castle DVB-H transmission network. The software firm has middleware and application layer software that supports mobile broadcast technologies. Adam Berger, CEO of the company, says the company's software isn't exclusive to DVB-H, but because the firm has headquarters in Pittsburgh, where Modeo currently is testing its network, it made sense for the company to focus on that technology.

Penthera's Athena-TV software system provides a user interface, channel-changing capabilities and detailed views of programming options. Berger describes the application as a virtual set-top box. "We modeled it after traditional digital and cable set-top boxes. It has an electronic program guide and provides users who are new to mobile TV with a familiar experience."

The company sells its software to device makers, but it also hopes to catch the attention of wireless operators because carriers tend to drive some of the handset makers' software decisions.

Penthera also makes a broadcast system that sits at the mobile broadcaster's network control center and provides control information to the broadcast stream. In the Modeo deployment, the company's technology resides at the Modeo network headend.

As mobile TV services grow in popularity, wireless operators are looking for new and better ways to deliver content to their subscribers. For entrepreneurs and startups, this means the time is ripe for solutions that help operators improve and economically deliver their mobile TV lineup.

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