Indeed, DVB-H - ostensibly a mobile offshoot of the international DVB video standard - is expected to dominate in terms of subscriber numbers in the next five years, with 121 million users accounting for 57% of the global market, according to Informa Telecoms & Media. That could also give it the edge in terms of economies of scale, says Scott Ramke, Modeo's VP of marketing and business development.
'At the end of the day, it's about embracing what looks to become a global open standard that will have the support of bellwether technology companies, which will drive scale,' says Ramke.
Qualcomm VP of engineering and market development Rob Chandhok claims MediaFLO will have a substantial edge over DVB-H because 'a FLO tower can deliver twice the distance or two times the number of services.' At the National Association of Broadcasters show earlier this year, Qualcomm demonstrated 16 channels of video using MediaFLO.
MediaFLO has gained limited traction outside the US, though that could change if Qualcomm's technology edge proves to be as powerful as the company claims. Chandhok points to a recently announced trial in the UK as evidence of MediaFLO's international support.
In any event, the fate of any given mobile TV technology is going to depend in no small part on spectrum availability. The US is something of a special case in that the government made appropriate spectrum available in the early part of this decade when the telecom industry was in a slump, allowing companies like Aloha and Crown Castle to obtain the spectrum at bargain rates and making the concept of a dedicated mobile broadcast network operator a uniquely American phenomenon.
In other parts of the world, regulators have been happy to parcel out spectrum for trials. But in many cases those regulators have not yet determined how to allocate the appropriate spectrum on a long-term basis. In some cases, the more desirable 700-MHz spectrum is committed to analog television for quite some time.
'One thing that helped in the US is the knowledge that analog broadcasting is going away in 2007,' notes Glidden from Harris Corp. 'Very few places in the world have hard dates anywhere near that. Some in Europe have it scheduled for 2012.'
In some countries, there is unused spectrum available around 200 MHz or 1500 MHz, which was traditionally earmarked for digital audio broadcasts. But whichever spectrum new-market entrants decide to use, it may command a higher price than what was seen in the US simply because the business plan for using that spectrum now appears so much more promising. As a result, in competitive markets outside the US, perhaps only the wealthiest companies - traditional telecom service providers or broadcasters - will be able to own and operate their own networks.
As Glidden points out, 'In some environments, broadcasters and mobile operators have common ownership,' making them a natural choice for owning and operating mobile broadcast networks.
As an alternative to acquiring new spectrum, some wireless network operators in Europe and parts of Asia have unused spectrum that they obtained as part of the 3G spectrum allocation process. Some equipment developers, including IPWireless, are betting that network operators will choose to deploy an emerging technology alternative that can use that existing infrastructure (see sidebar, 'Using what you got', p.