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Verizon Flicks Mobile TV Switch

UPDATE! Basking Ridge, N.J. — Verizon Wireless yesterday became the first cellular carrier to offer mobile TV service outside the cellular spectrum when it quietly flicked the switch on its MediaFLO-based V Cast Mobile TV service in 20 Midwest and West markets.

The service offers eight video channels at $15 a month. A basic package of four channels is $13 a month. A $25 a month package offers eight channels plus regular cellular-band V Cast services such as streaming video clips, Web browsing and unlimited e-mail.

For now, Verizon is offering only the Samsung SCH-u620 phone with 700MHz MediaFLO tuner and telescoping antenna, but that will be followed by an LG model. Pricing was unavailable.

The company has promoted the service as “the first truly live broadcast mobile TV service,” said to offer true broadcast-quality full motion video with virtually the same frames per second as home TV.

Despite the service’s revolutionary nature, Verizon chose to turn on the switch without extensive consumer promotion, save for pages on its Web site. Consumers can view the service in such cities as Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans and Salt Lake City.

There, subscribers can watch eight 24/7 channels of live and recorded content from CBS, Comedy Central, ESPN, FOX, MTV, NBC News, NBC Entertainment and Nickelodeon. MTV is simulcasting its regular TV channel to Verizon subscribers, and ESPN is broadcasting live college football and basketball games. Fox is offering programs such as “24” and “Prison Break,” although they are not simulcast along with their appearances on home TVs. NBC is simulcasting “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Heroes” and “Friday Night Lights,” a spokesman said.

Subscribers see their programming options on an electronic programming guide on the handset display. Parental controls are also offered.

MediaFLO USA, a Qualcomm company, is wholesaling the video service to Verizon and Cingular, which hasn’t yet launched service. The service, which uses 700MHz channel 55 spectrum owned by Qualcomm nationwide, can be expanded to 20 video channels, the company said.

MediaFLO is also working to clear analog TV stations from markets where they continue to operate to expand service nationwide.