By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Modeo is launching its first public beta test this month of commercial-grade mobile DTV service, blanketing New York City and part of New Jersey with audio and video content transmitted to a cellular smartphone.
Only a handful of audio and video channels are available during the beta test: six around-the-clock video channels and eight audio channels. Modeo, however, could deliver 10 to 12 video channels and 24 audio channels through its service, which uses the Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H) standard in the 1.6GHz band. In New York, Modeo broadcasts content over a network of 65 2-kilowatt towers and rooftop antennas to an area where 8.5 million people live.
Modeo parent Crown Castle owns 5MHz of the 1.6GHz spectrum in the top 300 markets and operates 11,000 cell towers nationwide.
For the beta test, Modeo is sending live network feeds of Fox News, the Disney Channel and E! Entertainment to an HTC-made smartphone with integrated antenna. Modeo hasn't revealed the other three video-content partners, nor did the company say whether those channels would deliver live network feeds or made-for-mobile content.
The beta test's eight music channels, each offering a different music genre, are supplied by Music Choice, which also supplies music channels to cable-TV operators and cellular operators.
Several hundred consumers and VIPs will get a Modeo-equipped HTC-made smartphone to use as their primary phone for a trial period ending March 31. The phones will store the users' channel-viewing habits, which will be analyzed after the phones are returned.
The beta comes later than Modeo had originally planned. A year ago, then-president Michael Schueppert said commercial service would launch in select markets in 2006, including Pittsburgh and New York City, and then expand to the top 30 U.S. markets by the end of 2007.
Mike Ramke, newly elevated to president from marketing VP, declined to put a timetable on commercial deployment, but he called the beta test "commercial-grade in all respects," including its ability to broadcast video at frame rates up to 30 fps to a phone located indoors, outdoors or in a vehicle traveling up to 70 mph.
Modeo's implementation of the DVB-H standard, using dozens of low-power 1.6GHz towers per market, offers several advantages over rival MediaFLO technology, which uses two to three 50-kilowatt towers in the UHF 700MHz band, Ramke said. One advantage is the dense coverage afforded by multiple broadcast antennas, eliminating the need for the 4-inch telescoping antenna used on MediaFLO-equipped phones, he said. Multiple low-power towers also minimize "self interference" caused by high-power signals that reflect off glass and physical structures to "confuse a receiver," he added.
For now, DVB-H has one disadvantage: channel-changing time, which includes buffer time and has been reduced from about six seconds to less than four seconds. The technology, however, "has room for further optimization," Ramke said. MediaFLO boasts 1.5-second channel-changing time without requiring a buffering.
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