Tuning into Wimax TV

Craig Miller
16 Oct 2008

The market for mobile TV has been somewhat of a paradox. There are endless studies showing mobile TV's appeal to consumers, its being the logical next step in terms of convergence, the widespread availability of mobile broadband and the shift of content owners and media companies dedicating significant resources to getting enhanced presence. Yet the market has seen a number of setbacks last year and mobile TV's viability has been questioned.

Clealy there is consumer interest but the question isn't whether there is a viable market, but what is the best technology that will change the economics of mobile TV and make mass market adoption possible‾

To make a significant investment in mobile TV, operators need to have confidence in the business model and in the technology's ability to deliver a fruitful return on investment. Yet, in a recent survey, nearly half of mobile subscribers were not aware if their cellular carrier offered mobile TV and video services, at all. Operators will need to raise the visibility of mobile TV and video services.

Operators must also look at the cost drivers for mobile TV, and especially those over Wimax. The economics of mobile TV over Wimax are driven by the costs to acquire spectrum and build out network coverage, and the technology's ability to support a wide offering of high-quality broadcast channels and deliver highly targeted advertising. Enough channels will potentially allow operators to offer a set of free ad-supported channels and a compelling premium offer that subscribers can access on a pay-per show, pay-per-view, or subscription basis. Finally, the economics are driven by where it positions the Wimax operator in the value chain.

But where does mobile TV over Wimax have a play‾ Both existing mobile operators and a set of new entrants are looking at a new generation of technologies beyond 3G to target this opportunity. Many operators are currently building the business case for Wimax and aiming to capture revenues from these next-generation multimedia services on top of the revenues from their traditional wireless DSL and mobile broadband services.

Balance quality and reach

Mobile multimedia services - especially video - are bandwidth-intensive and have become expensive to deploy as only point-to-point (unicast) services. Unicast services tailor the content to an individual user's needs, but as the subscriber base increases they do not provide efficient use of network resources. Operators face a major marketing dilemma: they want to drive revenue from services but if they are too successful, their networks may become congested and impact their profitable voice offerings.

Additionally, unicast delivery of multimedia content scales poorly for delivery of good quality mass-market content, including popular TV telecasts, as well as for the delivery of public safety services and public emergency alerts.

A Telephia study made in 2006 suggests that video quality is one of the most important service parameters, finding that 41% of US mobile content user respondents cited low video quality as the leading reason for dissatisfaction with mobile TV/video services.

Keeping with the notion that quality is key, service providers can and should use simple assumptions regarding spectral efficiency, streaming video data rates, service penetration, video usage, and available spectrum to generate available network capacity risk assessments - to avoid network capacity overload and service/customer loyalty disruptions.

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