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First there was OnStar, then satellite radio, and soon there will be ICO Global Communications' mobile TV service that delivers up to 15 channels to a moving vehicle without requiring a large antenna, said the company.
The TV service, expected to launch in 2010, also offers navigation and emergency services, and ICO is experimenting with delivering Internet to the car, the company said.
The full name for the service is ICO mobile interactive media service (MIM) and it is expected to carry a service fee of $15 to $25/month.
ICO launched one of the world's largest communications satellites in April, and begins testing its service in Raleigh, N.C., and Las Vegas next month, said a spokesman.
The company is working with Delphi to deliver both aftermarket and OEM equipment and expects to show a working prototype at International CES in January.
"We think there's a great demand out there for video … 26 percent of the time people are in the car, they are passengers, according to AAA," said a spokesman, explaining, "If people are in the car 16.5 hour a week, then 26 percent of that time they are a passenger. So, we're talking about video for the rear seat, and navigation and emergency assistance for the driver."
ICO CEO Tim Bryan said the company's trial in Raleigh will also include delivering Internet to the car. "Our goal is to test consumer demand," he said, noting that various broadband services will be tested, including mobile WiMAX.
ICO claimed its service offers several advantages over current technology. First, it will deliver true nationwide TV service covering the full 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, without requiring a bulky antenna. The ICO antenna should resemble that of satellite radio, said the spokesman.
If the user has an existing in-car video monitor, the aftermarket hardware will consist of a black box, antenna and a remote-control module, he said, noting that hardware pricing has not yet been set.
Video is delivered over the Digital Video Broadcast-Satellite services to Handheld (DVB-SH) standard. The 10 to 15 channels include a standard mix of news, sports, children's and entertainment programs from NBC Universal, Discovery Networks and Turner Broadcasting Systems.
Navigation will include traffic alerts as well as turn-by-turn directions, point of interest information and social networking. ICO says it has the ability to deliver traffic "probe" reports (to collect road speed information from all its users, converting them to traffic "probes") but it does not plan to offer this service at the outset.
A third main feature of ICO MIM is roadside assistance where the user can press a button in an emergency to receive help. The service is not intended to replace cellular service, but it can provide alternative communication if cellular is not available, said the spokesman.
Although the system could be used on mobile phones, ICO is targeting the car market primarily, seeking to leverage the estimated 40 million video screens already in cars.
Other mobile video services are also being launched that could impact the car market, including Qualcomm's MediaFLO which is currently offered by mobile phone carriers. LG and Samsung are also supporting a new mobile digital TV transmission standard for North America that is expected to be approved in 2009. Kenwood showed a prototype car TV system at International CES in January using the new DTV system and plans to offer a commercial product in 2010.
ICO's chairman is Craig McCaw who built MsCaw Cellular Communications into a leading carrier before it was sold to AT&T in 1996.