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R.I. business will offer live TV over cell phones
[April 25, 2006]

R.I. business will offer live TV over cell phones

(Providence Journal, The (RI) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 25--A Providence company is moving ahead with plans to transmit TV programs to cell phones.

Aloha Partners LP, which has its headquarters at Richmond Square on the city's East Side, said yesterday that it has established a new subsidiary, Hiwire, to oversee plans to deliver wireless, broadcast-quality TV programming to cell-phone users.

Hiwire plans to test-market the service to consumers in the Las Vegas market in the fall, through an arrangement with SES Americom, a satellite company.

Charles C. Townsend, president of Aloha Partners, said his company believes the venture will succeed because "It combines the two activities that Americans spend the most time doing: watching TV and talking on the cell phone."

The federal government several years ago auctioned off some UHF television frequencies -- those serving channels 54, 55 and 59. Aloha Partners has become the largest owner nationwide of the channel 54 and 59 frequencies, and has been focusing on how best to use them.

Among the options: Provide wireless Internet access for laptop computers and Blackberry hand-held communication devices. Aloha Partners has been testing this application in Phoenix.

But it has also decided to test the use of the frequencies by providing streaming, high-quality TV programs to cell phones, mostly using existing TV content, said Scott Wills, Hiwire's newly appointed president and chief operating officer.

"We have decided to take a serious look at mobile TV," Townsend said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Under an agreement announced yesterday, SES Americom, of Princeton, N.J., would, in essence, transmit TV channels from a satellite to a broadcast tower in Las Vegas; Hiwire would then transmit the channels -- and other content -- to specially equipped Nokia cell phones in Las Vegas, Townsend said.

As currently envisioned, a consumer might pay between $15 and $20 a month to receive up to 40 live TV channels -- via scrambled, encrypted signals -- on the consumer's cell phone, he said. (Music and data will also be included, Wills said.)

The trial will probably begin in the Las Vegas market in October, Townsend said.

For the trial, Aloha Partners chose SES Americom, a unit of SES Global SA, of Luxembourg, because of its expertise. SES has experience in a number of areas, including the distribution of TV programming to cable TV companies, Townsend said.

SES will work with Hiwire to negotiate programming contracts with certain cable TV channels, Townsend said.

Hiwire plans to sell its services to wireless carriers and to makers of consumer electronic devices, "offering the most cost-effective way for them to deliver high-definition mobile entertainment content to their subscribers," Aloha Partners said in a statement.

"The combination of SES Americom's ubiquitous satellite-based, hybrid distribution network and Hiwire's wireless spectrum capacity is poised to offer mobile TV consumers more choice, quality and personalized services than they've ever had before," Townsend said in a statement.

"Hiwire is what mobile television consumers want on their pocket-sized screens -- high resolution, broadcast-quality programming with more channel choices than any other network can provide," Bryan McGuirk, president of media solutions for SES Americom, said in the statement.

Aloha Partners is a limited partnership. Its investors are mainly former cable TV executives, including Amos B. Hostetter Jr., founder of Continental Cablevision.

In testimony to a U.S. Senate committee last year, Townsend said that Aloha Partners has invested more than $100 million in 700 MHz licenses, and is now the largest 700 MHz licensee.

It holds licenses that cover more than 175 million people -- about 60 percent of the United States population, he said.

Aloha Partners became the largest owner of 700 MHz spectrum as a result of purchases during Federal Communications Commission auctions of 700 MHz frequencies in 2001 and 2003 and subsequent acquisitions of spectrum owners.

SES Americom is the largest supplier of satellite services in the United States. It operates a fleet of 17 spacecraft in orbital positions that predominantly provide service throughout the Americas.

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