By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Communications-tower operator Crown Castle plans to put cable TV programming into consumers' hands.
The company, which owns a nationwide 5MHz swath of spectrum in the 1.6GHz band, plans a commercial launch this year of a wireless service that delivers audio and video to handheld devices, including cellphones. Samsung and Nokia plan to support the launch with cellphones incorporating DVB-H (digital video broadcasting-handheld) technology, the open standard that Crown Castle has adopted.
Crown Castle's spectrum covers the top 300 markets, and market trials have been underway in Pittsburgh since October. A New York trial is planned sometime this year.
DVB-H was designed from the ground up as a battery-friendly technology for small-screen handheld devices. It has been adopted by the DVB organization and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards-setting bodies. It will be implemented in Europe and Asia in spectrum abandoned by analog-TV broadcasters, said Kari Lehtinen, Nokia's North American director of business development.
Initially, Crown Castle's service will deliver at least eight channels, and possibly as many as 16 channels, of QVGA 320 by 240-pixel resolution video at 15 fps to 30 fps, with a few audio channels thrown in, Lehtinen said.
The technology supports soft handoffs for use in in-vehicle applications. It's based on the H.264 video-compression technology, also known as AVC (advanced video coding) and MPEG-4 Part 10.
Nokia is participating in Crown trials with a 1,900MHz GSM phone equipped with DVB-H. Samsung also plans to support the launch and has demonstrated phones delivering 30 fps with channel speeds of 300Kbps.
Initially, DVB-H cellphones will be expensive, as were the first camera phones, Lehtinen said. In 2005, the bill of materials for handset makers will be $15 to $20, falling to $5 by the end of 2006 and to $3 in 2007 or 2008, he said.
Crown Castle will build the DVB-H network and supply content, while cellular operators would sell the services and bill subscribers. Subscribers could use the phone's cellular frequencies to participate in interactive polls from content providers.
Eventually, as 700MHz analog-TV spectrum is freed up, cellular carriers might buy their own spectrum to offer their own DVB-H services, Lehtinen noted. In the interim, however, Nokia will support the Crown Castle launch because it could still take years for analog-TV spectrum to be cleared out.
Investment bank Allen and Company agreed. "We believe that over the next few years, Crown Castle Mobile Media could effectively reach most of the major U.S. markets before any other new entrant is able to clear meaningful spectrum for such a dedicated service," the bank said. Recently, Allen purchased a minority share of Crown Castle Mobile Media, a subsidiary set up by Crown Castle, The company is also searching for an additional strategic partner.
Crown Castle operates about 11,000 broadcast and cellular towers in 68 of the top 100 markets. It will leverage its existing towers to roll out DVB-H service and would build out the network in other markets at a lower cost than building out a cellular network, Nokia said.
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