Changing channels on mobile TV

John C. Tanner
08 Sep 2010

It's been six years since mobile broadcast TV caught the mobile industry's imagination as a way for cellcos to deliver video services to mobile subscribers without overburdening their 3G networks. Following the hype of mobile broadcast technology rollouts like S-DMB and T-DMB in Korea, and ISDB-T 1seg in Japan, Europe-backed DVB-H and Qualcomm's MediaFLO were soon scrambling for mindshare and customers.

Since then, however, mobile TV's star hasn't faded so much as been repositioned in the face of market realities - namely spectrum availability, device costs, an uncertain business model and the rising popularity of over-the-top video.

To be sure, mobile video as a service concept remains a hot ticket. A recent Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan study found that video content ranks as the biggest influence on customer perceptions of value of telecoms services bundles, with wireless also high on the list, suggesting that "wireless services will increasingly be defined by the degree to which they enable consumption of video content", as well as how that plays in a larger (i.e. quadruple-play) ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the latest Visual Networking Index from Cisco Systems predicts that video will account for 66% of all global mobile data traffic by 2014 (that means two-thirds of 40 exabytes a year) at a 66-fold growth rate from 2009 - a higher rate than any other mobile app. And ABI Research is projecting mobile video services to be a $2 billion business worldwide by 2013.

However, the Cisco and ABI figures are for wireless broadband data networks. In the case of ABI, that $2 billion includes a variety of video apps - video telephony, video messaging, video sharing and video-on-demand, among others. Cellcos have already been launching various video services, from clips to streaming video, as they move up the speed chain to HSPA and HSPA+ (and EV-DO Rev B, where applicable), and as dongles and smartphones become increasingly significant mobile content drivers.

Between that, better video compression technology and the global economic situation putting pressure on operators to invest more in existing assets rather than another overlay network, mobile operators have been less inclined to turn to dedicated broadcast platforms.

But there's still hope for mobile broadcast TV via up-and-coming technology solutions like push content and free-to-air chipsets, as well as the certainty from vendors that 3.5G and even 4G networks will only be able to run video on their networks for so long before the capacity strain takes its toll.

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