March 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 3
Mobile TV Goes Forth…
By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
The idea of bringing TV services to mobile phones has in recent years titillated consumers, network operators and content providers. Like its larger and more stationary cousin, IPTV, Mobile TV over cellular networks (also called “MobileTV” and “Out-of-Band TV”) could allow for video-on-demand (VoD) as well as traditional “linear” and live TV programs, thus enabling personalized, interactive TV optimized for the mobile user experience. Another possibility is the on-demand (or else automated subscription downloading) of mobile TV podcasts stored directly in the handset, so the user can view content at an appropriate time, even when the mobile device is unable to make a wireless network connection.
But what form of mobile TV will be the most popular? As telecom industry legend Brough Turner notes elsewhere in this issue, “… forget mobile TV broadcasting and think video-on-demand… Of those actually using mobile video-on-demand, the most popular content categories are music videos, movie trailers, weather, sports action clips, comedy videos, cartoons and amateur video shorts. Note the strong preference for short format videos … 85% of mobile video viewers watched content sent or pointed out by a friend or family member while only a third had watched content offered by the operator… What people want is mobile, on-demand access to the broadest possible set of video clips and easy ways to share cool content with family and friends.”
In 2007 Juniper Research reported their expectation of $10 billion in global revenues for mobile TV by 2011. A 2008 ABI Research study entitled “Mobile TV Services” predicts 464 million mobile TV subscribers by 2012, partly as a result of 3G network expansion involving video-capable handsets, increased content availability and flat-rate plans for mobile video. ABI sees the greatest mobile TV growth in the Asia-Pacific region (from 24 million in 2007 to more than 260 million by 2012), such as South Korea and Japan. In North America, uptake will occur in 2008 as after AT&T (http://www.att.com) launches its MediaFLO service and Verizon Wireless (http://www.verizonwireless.com) continues to expand its own MediaFLO empire. (Of course, various on-demand mobile video services will appear too.)
This is possible using technology complaint with one of four Mobile TV broadcasting standards:
• DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld), one of the more favored standards.
• DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting).
• TDtv that combines the IPWireless (http://www.ipwireless.com) commercial UMTS TD-CDMA solution and the 3GPP Release 6 Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (MBMS) to deliver up to 14 300 Kbps channels in a mobile operator’s existing 5 MHz of unpaired 3G spectrum. MBMS broadcasts over 3G networks allow any number of users to simultaneously share a traffic channel as they view the same program in the same geographical area.
• 1seg based on Japan’s ISDB-T (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Television).
• MediaFLO, developed by Qualcomm, favored by Verizon
These mobile TV systems generally fall into two categories: Two-way cell networks and one-way dedicated broadcast networks. Each of them has their pros and cons. Most operators agree that the fastest way to get mobile TV up and running is via minor modifications to existing 3G (WCDMA/HSPA) networks.
In 2007 in the U.S., Sprint Nextel Corporation, Comcast Corporation, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications launched “Pivot”, a “quad play” integrated service enabling consumers to link their mobile phone service with their home digital phone, and some high-speed Internet services and digital cable services. Pivot relies on both wireline and wireless networks to deliver to customers capabilities such as one-button access to the Internet, live mobile TV, access to home TV listings using a familiar programming guide, access to home email and voicemail and making unlimited calls between their cable home service and mobile phones. Pivot enables such “converged” innovations as allowing users to program their DVR with their mobile phone. It’s been launched in 40 metro markets.
Currently, free-to-air mobile TV services or trials exist in Finland, India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Russia. In total there are about 130 mobile TV services (both trials and production systems) worldwide.
For example, Nokia Siemens Networks (http://www.nokiasiemensnetworks.com) has announced a joint collaboration with Global Mediacom (http://www.mediacom.co.id) — the largest and only integrated media, broadcasting, entertainment and telecommunication group in Indonesia — to launch a commercial broadcast mobile TV service in Indonesia, based on DVB-H technology. It’s the biggest DVB-H agreement yet signed by Nokia Siemens Networks, and the company will handle the end-to-end systems and services, including consulting, implementation of the entire broadcasting solution and network, systems integration and the relevant business applications. Global Mediacom is also discussing with Nokia about Nokia providing DVB-H integrated devices such as the Nokia N77, and work with Nokia Siemens Networks on joint marketing activities to Indonesian consumers. Both companies will launch the first services for Indonesia’s Jabodetabek area in the first half of 2008.
FLO TV (http://www.flotv.com), delivered by MediaFLO USA Inc. (http://www.mediaflousa.com) doesn’t offer video clips — instead, it’s based on providing a selection of live, simulcast and time-shifted full-length entertainment, news, sports and kids’ programming. It presents well-known networks and channels as CBS, Comedy Central, ESPN, FOX, MTV, NBC and Nickelodeon, so programming partners and advertisers can extend their reach to consumers, who can continue to watch their favorite shows wherever they go. The interface resembles a familiar TV remote control, allowing users to choose shows from an on-screen programming guide and flip from one channel to the next quickly.
Verizon Wireless, America’s Number 2 mobile phone operator after AT&T, offers the FLO TV service through its V CAST mobile TV. Verizon’s Wireless V CAST Mobile TV service is now available in more than 45 markets in different tiers for $13 to $25 per month, aside from regular phone service charges.
Currently, in the Americas, one interesting, major player is MobiTV (http://www.mobitv.com), a privately-held company founded in 1999 and headquartered in Emeryville, California. MobiTV delivers more than 160 live and VoD premium and primetime programming channels, satellite and digital music services from the chief broadcast and cable television networks and foremost music labels to more than 200 kinds of mobile devices across multiple networks (e.g., 3G, WiFi, WiMAX and DVB-H), serving over 3 million subscribers.
MobiTV’s video streams employ MPEG-4, H.264 and AAC up to 30 fps. The system is interactive, with bi-directional communication for polling, mCommerce and click-thru advertisements.
And speaking of ads…
To Advertise or Not to Advertise?
There is still some confusion over how much of mobile TV should be sent Free-to-Air (FTA), unencrypted and available without subscription. The concept of FTA is a bit fictional, since all viewers do ultimately pay up in form of direct license fees (as in the UK), voluntary donations (as in the case of the American Public Broadcasting Service) or advertising and forms of commercial sponsorship (U.S., Japan). Mobile phone users currently do subscribe to Mobile TV services, though there are a greater number of viewers for FTA mobile TV broadcast services.
Over at Aricent (http://www.aricent.com), Deepak Mehrotra, VP of Mobile Terminal Solutions, syas, “We’re involved in Mobile TV in two ways. The first is to improve the user experience, and the second is to take mobile TV and integrate it with location-based services so as to allow the insertion of location-based advertising into the mobile TV experience. That latter idea is bit more forward-looking.”
“It’s presently unknown whether people will accept advertisements in general on a mobile handset,” says Mehrotra. “But advertisements are generally acceptable to users if they’re part of a TV experience, so knowing where the terminal is situated is helpful in targeting ad insertion. When you’re watching TV at home, the local cable operator knows that a particular set of signals is going to a certain Zip code, and they can send local advertisements there. Customers are used to that. Handsets, however, can be anywhere in the country, so inserting the appropriate advertising content based on the location is expected to be something that both the carriers would like as well as the advertisers. That’s a new area that they’re looking at. There are no deployments in the short-term, but the work is continuing.”
“In the first area, we work on the functionality of changing channels, turning on DVRs from the phone, and making the direct experience very positive,” says Mehrotra. “We work with our design division to develop easy usability for consumers, and usability is a part of the whole experience. We’ve done some projects in this area and continue to do so. We recently made a joint announcement with Ortiva Wireless about our new development center. We will provide R&D services to support product development, quality assurance and support for Ortiva’s Media Shaper platform for mobile TV. This technology allows the user experience to be optimized even in geographical areas where the bandwidth changes quite rapidly because of radio propagation delays. The last thing we want is to have the customer’s experience of watching mobile TV get distorted or dropped. So, this technology that we’re working on with Ortiva optimizes the wireless bandwidth that’s available at a particular time and it makes the overall user experience as good as possible. TV is one possible application. The technology can be applied to other mobile video applications.”
“At the moment, we’re focusing on MediaFLO for the U.S. market,” says Mehrotra. “We have also worked on mobile video technology for European markets. We see mobile TV as being popular primarily with consumers. And even then, its popularity is directly proportional to how it’s priced.”
Aricent’s partner, Ortiva Wireless (http://www.ortivawireless.com) is said to offer the industry’s only commercial solution for proactive management of mobile video, allowing service and content providers to drastically improve control, quality, and efficiency of rich media content delivery. Ortiva’s Media Shaper technology increases network efficiency and improves video coverage density for mobile operators.
Moreover, content providers and aggregators can leverage Ortiva’s advanced, hosted Mobile-CDN service to manage and scale video delivery, and control insertion of additional targeted viewer content, all without having to buy more equipment. Ortiva Wireless can dynamically “shape” the content, giving subscribers the smoothest video and clearest audio experience possible regardless of fluctuating and hostile network conditions.
In the meantime, Motorola (http://www.mot.com) recently introduced the Motorola Mobile TV DVB-H compatible DH01 device and a mobile TV broadcast solutions portfolio. The pocket-sized personal media player can handle live TV, on-demand clips and programs saved on a DVR. With a 4.3-inch Wide Quarter Video Graphics Video Graphics Array Screen supporting up to 16 million colors at 25 fps. The DH01 device is non-proprietary, supporting not just the DVB-H broadcasting standard but also open standards interfaces across devices, networks and application service platforms. It also has a five-minute memory buffer so you can pause during live TV viewing, and a rechargeable battery that delivers up to four ours of playback time.
Motorola’s mobile TV solution includes network infrastructure (DVB-H transmission network equipment, video head-end center equipment, an interactive application services delivery platform), services (to design, deploy and optimize the network in addition to application services); and the devices themselves.
At the moment, the world awaits AT&T’s imminent launch of
its live MediaFLO-based mobile TV service. The service will debut with eight live, linear channels offered by Qualcomm’s American MediaFLO subsidiary: CBS Mobile, Fox Mobile, NBC2Go, NBC News2Go, ESPN Mobile TV, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.
Mobile TV, with its short “mobisodes” (the mobile successor to TV episodes) may end up reducing our respective personal attention spans, much the way children’s educational television of the 1970s and 1980s did with two and three-minute video and film segments then in vogue. And it’s yet another example of how we can run, but can’t hide from advertising. Even so, mobile TV’s advantages, such as accessing instant news and other content, far outweigh any possible disadvantages. IT
Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.
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