Mobile TV advances
"Today, 5.3 million U.S. wireless subscribers pay for video--just 2.5 percent of all U.S. cell-phone users.
Using UHF signal means "we don't have to burden the 3G networks," says Gina Lombardi, president of MediaFlo USA. It also means just 0.4 percent of mobile devices sold worldwide can pick up the broadcasts.
But that number will hit 10 percent by 2011, says London-based research firm Informa Telecoms & Media--and the global mobile-TV business could be worth $31 billion by then, up from $2 billion now. That's also a boon for smaller players like Amp'd Mobile and GoTV Networks, which have launched made-for-mobile-TV production studios.
"Just a few years ago, using your wireless phone as a camera and then sending pictures to your friends was a novelty," says AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel. "But we've already learned that what people do with their cell phones is increasing exponentially."
The UHF shift comes five years after the industry poured billions into third-generation networks, assuming that near-broadband speeds would support streaming video. But now that 3G is being used mainly for wireless Internet and voice, carriers fear that adding video will lead to slow delivery and dropped calls. UHF, however, could deliver TV more cheaply than 3G without clogging the data pipes.
Qualcomm's and Nokia's competing UHF technologies will work in similar ways: Signals are broadcast from TV towers and processed by specialized phone chips. Qualcomm is spending as much as $800 million on a new network, called MediaFlo, which will interact with a proprietary system of chips and servers. The San Diego giant has acquired UHF spectrum in most major U.S. cities and expects to launch trials later this summer, rolling out nationwide service next year.
Nokia, meanwhile, is looking to sell handsets and gear based on a competing technology called DVB-H (digital video broadcasting for handhelds). To build a test network, the Finnish company is teaming up with cell-phone-tower operator Crown Castle USA. Trials are under way in Pittsburgh, though widespread deployment isn't expected until early 2007. Meanwhile, Texas Instruments is working on a mobile-TV chip called Hollywood for Nokia and others.