By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Cellular handset suppliers are ready to jump on the live-TV bandwagon, but they're waiting for a few things to happen before they ramp up production.
First, they're waiting for cellular carriers to figure out how to position and price the competing Forward Link Only (MediaFLO) and Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H) services, both of which deliver live-TV and audio channels to cellphones and other portable devices without overloading the cellular spectrum.
Second, they are waiting for DVB-H provider Modeo and Qualcomm's MediaFLO USA to sign enough content deals and roll out enough base stations and towers to support commercial launches.
Modeo expects to launch commercial DVB-H service in only two markets by the end of the year, and Qualcomm's MediaFLO subsidiary plans a commercial launch through Verizon Wireless within a year.
Through live demonstrations at April's CTIA convention, here, handset suppliers signaled their readiness to offer a mix of mobile video handsets. MediaFLO-equipped CDMA 1xEV-DO handsets, for example, were demonstrated by Pantech/Curitel, Kyocera, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sharp. Samsung also demonstrated a W-CDMA model equipped with MediaFLO.
Meantime, GSM handsets equipped with DVB-H were demonstrated by Nokia, Motorola and Samsung, and Modeo showed an HTC-made PDA phone due in the second-half in the United States with Windows Mobile 5.0 OS.
For the MediaFLO demos, Qualcomm beamed in TV and audio from a single 50-kilowatt Las Vegas broadcast tower and from an additional 1-kilowatt tower set up specifically to bolster reception inside the convention-hall. MediaFLO is building a second tower to expand coverage to the entire Las Vegas metro area.
For the DVB-H demos, multiple companies streamed a handful of channels over DVB-H spectrum inside the convention center. The companies included Nokia, Motorola, Microsoft, Texas Instruments and Philips. "Nokia doesn't plan to support MediaFLO because it's not an open standard," a spokesperson noted.
Major carriers attending the show didn't seem to be in any rush to commercialize the demonstrated technologies.
Sprint PCS will be the first carrier to test MediaFLO this summer and is also considering DVB-H, said Oliver Valente, product development senior VP. By the end of the year, the company would like to choose one or the other, but there's "no real rush," he said. Sprint already offers unicast live-TV and video service over its cellular network.
For the Verizon network, MediaFLO president Gina Lombardi promised a commercial nationwide launch "within a year from now" in an unspecified number of Verizon's EV-DO markets. Qualcomm owns channel 55 spectrum nationwide, and in an unspecified number of those markets, the spectrum is clear of UHF TV stations, she said. The company is working with UHF stations to clear the spectrum in additional markets sooner than the Feb. 17, 2009, deadline set by Congress for all TV stations to turn off their VHF and UHF analog signals.
It doesn't look like Verizon will launch service this year, however. Edward Salas, network planning VP for Verizon Wireless, called it "a challenge to launch by the end of the year." Salas also said Verizon wants "a material footprint" and a good mix of MediaFLO-equipped CDMA 1xEV-DO handsets at launch.
For its part, Cingular is looking at both technologies, and either "might be a piece of the overall video process," but "it's not the only way to provide video," said chief technical officer Kris Rinne. Having finished a "paper analysis" of potential demand, she said technologies such as DVB-H and MediaFLO "will be a piece" of Cingular's video services, but she noted that "it's early for us" to choose one or the other.
Meanwhile, Cingular is implementing high-speed W-CDMA high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) over its cellular spectrum, eventually yielding theoretical download speeds of 14.4Mbps. Nonetheless, Cingular recognizes that unicasting over HSDPA is not as spectrum efficient as broadcasting over DVB-H or MediaFLO spectrum, she said. "You still can't have a lot of users on a cell site receiving unicasts," she noted. In addition, usage could spike up at unpredictable times, such as when an airport shuts down, potentially clogging up the airwaves, she said.
If, as Cingular suggests, carriers offer DVB-H or MediaFLO services to complement their cellular video services, how would they integrate and differentiate the services?
MediaFLO's Lombardi suggests that high-demand mass-market TV programming such as news, sports and entertainment could be streamed over MediaFLO airwaves along with overnight video downloads. Programs with niche appeal could be streamed over the cellular airwaves, added Qualcomm Internet Services president Peggy Johnson. Nonetheless, Lombardi noted, "carriers are still working on how to combine the two."
Verzon's Salas sees carriers shipping bandwidth-hogging TV programs over MediaFLO pipes while video clip downloads and narrowcast video streams are sent through cellular pipes.
While they're figuring out how to position audio/video broadcast technologies, carriers are also eager to find out what content they will be able to offer over the MediaFLO and DVB-H platforms. Modeo's consumer pilot test in Pittsburgh is ongoing with multiple rotating channels, but the company hasn't announced commercial-service content commitments.
For its part, MediaFLO announced a deal with Network LIVE to broadcast live and prerecorded concerts, comedy performances other special events, and interviews with music performers. Network LIVE is a joint venture whose owners include AOL and XM Satellite Radio. No other deals have been announced.Competing U.S. Mobile Video Technologies
|DVB-H (Modeo)||MediaFLO (Qualcomm)|
|Number of Channels||Targeting 10-12 video, 24 audio channels, 1 podcasting/data channel||Up to 20 video, up to 10 audio channels|
|Picture Quality||QVGA, spec'd up to 30 fps, but likely to offer 24+ fps for fast-action video and low-20s for animation||QVGA up to 30 fps in “good” coverage areas; (90%+ of a market area); minimum 15 fps in “moderate”coverage areas|
|Channel-Switching Time||1.5 seconds, plus 4.5-second buffering||1.5 seconds on average with no buffer|
|Battery Life||HTC-made GSM phone delivers 3 hours video, 4 hours talk, 6 days standby on 1150mAh lithium-ion battery||Same as cellular phone's talktime (4 hours video on 850mAh battery)|
|Other Features||Developing live-TV pause, time-shifting, podcasting, digital-file delivery, interactive services||800 minutes of short-form Clipcasting; time-shift recording, datacasting|
|A/V Codecs||Windows Media Video, Windows Media Audio||H.264 (AVC) video, HE AAC+ audio|
|Spectrum Used||1.67-1.675GHz (weather-balloon telemetry spectrum) (5MHz per market)||700MHz (UHF Channel 55) nationwide (6MHz per market)|
|Spectrum Availability||Modeo owner Crown Castle owns spectrum in top 300 markets. The spectrum is unused in all but one small market.||Qualcomm subsidiary MediaFLO owns channel 55 spectrum. Number of markets with unused spectrum not released, but all TV stations must relinquish the spectrum by Feb. 17, 2009, under law passed by Congress.|
|Coverage||Multiple 2-kilowatt towers per metro area to provide outdoor, in-building and moving-vehicle coverage||Two to three 50-kilowatt towers cover a major metro area to provide outdoor, in-building and moving-vehicle coverage|
|Target Devices||Wide range of mobile devices, including cellular phones, portable media players, laptops. Also envisions in-vehicle applications.||Cellular phones initially, with potential for other devices in the future|
|Physical Layer||Orthoganal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) sends program over multiple channels simultaneously||Orthoganal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) sends program over multiple channels simultaneously|
|Commercial Launch||Pittsburgh, New York in '06; Total top 30 markets in '07||Within a year in “material” footprint of Verizon's CDMA 1xEV-DO markets|
|Sources: Modeo, MediaFLO, Nokia, Verizon Wireless ©TWICE 2006|
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.