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Hiwire Becomes Third Company To Plan Mobile TV Service

In one way, the fledgling digital mobile TV market might turn out to be a little like the early days of terrestrial TV, when three over-the-air national networks competed for viewers.

Competitors MediaFLO and Modeo have a third potential competitor in Hiwire, a subsidiary of Aloha Partners, the largest buyer of spectrum in the FCC’s UHF-TV 700MHz auctions in 2001 and 2003. Through acquisitions of other buyers, Aloha is the largest owner of 700MHz spectrum, with 166 licenses in markets with more than 120 million people, including the entire states of California, Nevada and Hawaii and most of Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Aloha-owned spectrum is already cleared in markets with a population of 56 million, and the company counts on the digital TV transition law so it can begin using the rest of its spectrum by Feb. 17, 2009.

Aloha’s original mission was to launch low-cost wireless high-speed Internet access to the 33 percent of rural America lacking broadband service and to the 20 percent of urban small businesses that have only one broadband alternative.

Since then, the company has broadened its focus to include mobile TV service and has teamed up with SES Americom, which aggregates content for cable and satellite TV companies and for wireless telecom companies. SES would retransmit aggregated content to Hiwire’s terrestrial network.

That network would deliver live TV service to tuners embedded in cellular phones. Broadcasts to PDAs and to portable media players (PMPs) are also possible.

Hiwire plans to launch commercial service in 2006 in only one market, Las Vegas, where Qualcomm’s MediaFLO subsidiary is already running tests. Hiwire said it has secured $100 million for a build-out estimated to cost $500 million.

Hiwire claims it can offer up to twice the number of video channels as its competitors because it owns licenses for two UHF channels per market, providing 12MHz of spectrum, whereas MediaFLO and Modeo own less. Modeo owns 5MHz in the 1.67-1.675MHz weather-balloon band, and MediaFLO owns 6MHz in the 700MHz UHF band in their markets (see TWICE, April 24, p. 38). MediaFLO promises up to 20 video channels and up to 10 audio channels per market, and Modeo promises 10 to 12 video and 24 audio channels.

Hiwire’s markets include all of the top 10 markets, 84 percent of the population in the top 40 markets, and 80 percent of the population in the top 100 markets.

Hiwire also claims advantages that come with the use of an open standard, DVB-H, which is being deployed in Europe and by Modeo in the United States. MediaFLO’s technology, on the other hand, is proprietary, although all three are based on Orthoganal Frequency Division Multiplexing, which sends a program over multiple channels simultaneously.

A third Hiwire advantage, which it shares with MediaFLO, is the use of the 700MHz band, the company said. Transmissions in that spectrum travel significantly farther and penetrate foliage and buildings significantly better than higher band transmissions, the company said. In addition, transmissions can be delivered from only two or three high-power 50-kilowatt towers per major metro area because high-power towers are permitted in the UHF TV band. Besides improved reception in buildings and in moving vehicles, the spectrum affords nationwide build-out costs that are 50 percent to 75 percent less expensive than they would be in higher bands, the company said.

Modeo’s planned service, in contrast, must use multiple 2-kilowatt towers per market because higher band spectrum is used.

Aloha president Charles Townsend said he believes demand for mobile TV will be big. In testimony before Congress last year on the DTV transition, he said the initial mobile TV trials in Europe and South Korea “have demonstrated a significant demand for TV on cellphones and small devices.”

“Major entertainment companies are just beginning to recognize the potential of mobile TV and are starting to conduct mobile TV trials in the U.S.,” he added. “Once the trials are complete, these companies are likely to want to be able to deliver their content over their own networks rather than be captive to the wireless companies.”

Hiwire’s Third Way In Mobile Video