Mass market potential

14 Feb 2006

Mobile TV is going to bug the technophobes. The same people who were first to complain about the cellphone, who thought the Internet was over-rated, who swore they never needed a Walkman - they're the ones who will object to the small screen.

They haven't heard of mobile TV yet. When they do, they will ask, 'Do we really need more TV‾' They will remind us there's nothing to watch on 'real TV' and complain about how intrusive it is. Etcetera.

They will probably be right. We have plenty of TV already, and TV-watching commuters will surely get in our face.

Because humans can't resist moving pictures. Once upon a time we watched the box in the privacy of our home. Now it's a shared experience in the pub or on the bus or in the store. TV will inevitably - like voice, music and text - migrate to the world's most popular electronic device.

Unwired thus declares confidence in the mobile TV concept. I fearlessly expect it to become a mass market service somewhere between 2010 and 2015. Until then we can expect a good deal of burnt cash and countless headlines as telecom and media egos clash.

Right now it's much virgin territory, with all sorts of visions in play.

In Korea, SK Telecom and partners have avoided building a terrestrial infrastructure by running TV via satellite. Few countries in the world can commission their own hardware for a single network, so we won't see that replicated.

The notional technology leader, DVB-H (digital video broadcast-handheld), heavily backed by Nokia, is trialing in many markets. O2 has just completed a DVB-H trial in which people watched once or twice a day. Unfortunately, in the UK at least, DVB-H spectrum won't be released until 2012.

Rival BT has been experimenting with DAB (digital audio broadcast), which has been carrying radio signals for several years in the UK.

In the US wireless infrastructure specialist Modeo (formerly Crown Castle) will build a 30-city DVB-H deployment. In opposition Qualcomm has bought spectrum nationwide to roll out FLO (forward link only), its own standard (no!).

So there's uncertainty over network technologies and spectrum. So far, so normal.

The O2 trials suggest consumer demand exists. Some 83% said they would subscribe, but in the absence of price points, we can take that with a big grain of salt. BT think people will pay up to $14, but that was a small trial, and Unwired suggests customers will in any case buy bundles of voice, data and video minutes rather than dedicated video.

Multi-channel TV

Two things about usage: O2 said they were surprised at how much people watched TV on the handset at home. Customers were using the service, which included BBC, ITV and CNN, for 23 minute per session. That's a lot - but it was unmetered.

It does seem likely that mobile TV will follow the path of multi-channel TV, with some free and multiple premium channels.

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