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AT&T, a GSM/UMTS network operator and the largest U.S. network operator to boot, made a deal with MediaFLO that sent shockwaves through the GSM community and, I am sure, upset Nokia, which is one of AT&T’s phone suppliers.

Europe Does DVB-H Harris/LG to MPH

Friday, April 13, 2007

As fewer countries around the world tie spectrum allocations and technologies together, it should come as no surprise that the giants in Europe―Vodafone, O2 Europe, T-Mobile, Nokia and Ericsson―have announced their endorsement of a common mobile TV implementation profile “in order to ensure interoperability and future-proof future technological developments.”

Naturally, they chose DVB-H, trying to freeze out Qualcomm’s MediaFLO and other contenders including IP Wireless. Never mind that Qualcomm’s handheld device chip supports MediaFLO, DVB-H and several other technologies, the GSM community, once again, has closed ranks quickly around its own mobile TV standard.

Perhaps this happened so quickly (trials of several technologies are on-going in Europe) because AT&T, a GSM/UMTS network operator and the largest U.S. network operator to boot, made a deal with MediaFLO that sent shockwaves through the GSM community and, I am sure, upset Nokia, which is one of AT&T’s phone suppliers.

So the big guns in Europe banded together to try to stem the tide in Europe by throwing their support at DVB-H. It appears as though the Europeans are still into controlling their own technology destinies whether or not there is a better customer experience available.

If you look at the list above, you’ll see there are some companies missing, and I believe that at least one network operator will opt for a different mobile TV solution. Then we will really see what happens. It is going to be fun to watch this take shape. At the end of the day, I think we will find out that some of these players jumped too quickly and will regret a decision that is based, once again, on technology―their technology―rather than system performance and customer considerations.

I wonder if the executives who made this decision had talked to their technical people at any length and if they had walked the aisles at 3GSM in Barcelona and compared the various technologies being shown on the floor.  To be clear, I am not dissing DVB-H here, just saying that locking network operators into a single choice in technology is a very short-sighted practice to continue in today’s world.


The mobile TV community is attracting a lot of different players. Off-network players include MediaFLO, DVB-H, ISDB, IPTV and a few others. On-network players include MobiTV, GoTV Networks and others, and a few months ago Samsung announced it was working on a set of chips for reception of standard TV broadcasts in phones.

Next up is the new Harris/LG technology called Mobile-Pedestrian Handheld technology or MPH. This technology is designed by Harris (big in the TV and radio transmitter business) to enable an existing TV station to use its 6 MHz of bandwidth for both HDTV and MPH digital TV. Harris believes that having local stations broadcasting local content as well as the network shows would be attractive to those on the go.

Several articles I have read on this issue echo my first concern. If I were a network operator, and I was the one specifying phones to run on my network, would I approve a phone that receives over-the-air TV if I don’t make any money from it? Doubtful in my mind.

The other issues have to do with coverage. Remember, TV broadcasts are designed to be received by outdoor antennas and in many areas, even at street level, reception is not possible because of buildings and other objects in the way, multi-path issues and just plain lack of signal. Both MediaFLO and DVB-H systems are being built to provide coverage to mobiles, not just coverage to a fixed TV on an antenna, so we will have to see what happens here. It is going to be interesting to watch and see how this all plays out―everyone has the mobile TV bug, but no one knows how much people will watch or what they will pay for it.

I know what I want, but I have been assured by those in the business that I do not fit the typical profile of a mobile TV viewer—perhaps that is because I have been using DVR technology at my home since the very first Replay TV beta program and today I don’t watch anything that has not been pre-recorded except news.

The mobile TV battle heats up and I am sure it will continue to provide me with lots of material in the coming months…


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