Mobile TV is seen as one of the great new market opportunities for satellite players. With users demonstrating a seemingly insatiable desire for video and wanting content on demand, the mobile TV market could be a lucrative one. However, issues with standards and formats, as well as working out the correct business models mean this market is not necessarily a sure thing. The demise of satellite-based mobile TV provider Mobile Broadcasting Corp. (MBC) in Japan serves as a warning sign to others that plenty of obstacles remain in terms of tapping into this market.
Blizzard of Acronyms
The market at the moment is a blizzard of acronyms in terms of formats: DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting–Handheld), DVB–SH (Digital Video Broadcasting-Satellite services to Handhelds), T-DMB (Terrestrial–Digital Multimedia Broadcasting), S–DMB (Satellite–Digital Multimedia Broadcasting), MediaFLO, etc., but which of these different technologies and formats will win out? Steve Maine, CEO of Solaris Mobile, the mobile services joint venture created by SES Astra and Eutelsat, says the format issue is holding the mobile TV industry back. “That situation cannot continue, because as long as it continues, the market will never gain traction. It is inevitable that at this early stage of the development of a new market, there should be a need for competing formats. I think it is worth stepping back a little and asking why we have got them. I think part of the reason is that this is an area of convergence. You have got people coming to this market from different platform perspectives.” Maine says the sector is at the “evolution stage” in working out these issues. “I do think we will start to see some clarity emerge over the next 12 months. Speaking from my own perspective, we have our own satellite under manufacture. It will be launched in the first quarter of next year. That is a really strong motivator for getting people focused on getting workable solutions. We intend to be a catalyst in this process of coalescing views. This is not something we can do by ourselves.” In terms of how Maine expects the situation to resolve itself, “One of the possible solutions is that you will have multiple platforms so what you will need in the market are handsets that support multiple system standards. I personally think that is unlikely to happen. I think it is unlikely that politicians are going to choose a standard which might then win out, which is another solution that has been touted in the market. These kind of things tend to sort themselves out.” ICO intends to be one of the pioneers in offering mobile TV services in the United States. In terms of whether one mobile TV format will win out over another, Tim Bryan, ICO CEO, says, “I think it is hard to say that will only ever be one format, although that would be a relatively good outcome. There maybe a couple of different formats. The formats themselves are not hugely different one from the other. That is, the S-DMB, DVB-SH, ETSI-SDR, etc.; they are all relatively simple. We chose DVB-SH early on because we are trying to drive standardization as much as possible. We want the ecosystem around mobile TV to be as big as humanly possible. That is why we went with DVB-SH. That is why we think it is the right standard. Certainly there is maneuverability for others to develop, but the more that gets collected around one, the bigger the ecosystem gets and the better off we all are.” Bryan does not believe the current situation is holding the industry back. “We haven’t seen it. We have obviously done a lot of work DVB-SH. There are obviously quite a lot of handheld devices around DVB-H. There will be a few DVB-SH devices out there. At this point, I have not seen the technology holding it back. My own personal view is what is holding mobile TV back is that it seems to be that mobile TV being offered by wireless carriers needs to be something different. It needs to be something more that ICO has to offer. That is more of a market issue, rather than a technology issue,” he says. Rich Redmond, director, strategic marketing, Harris Corp., broadcast communications, says, “While it is simpler to only deal with one standard rather than many, we will continue to see device suppliers make multi-standard devices. Several chip manufacturers have announced multi-standard chips for mobile TV, including DVB-T, DVB-H, ISDBT, FLO, DMB and DAB-IP, to name a few. By having this set of multi-standard chips, a handset manufacturer can make a truly software-defined handset that sells in the right market with the right set of features but is one manufacturing effort, much like multi-language support. The real effort is turning on networks with the content people want to consume. People will not buy receivers in hopes that there will be content or a network. The network must come first along with compelling content.” Mazen Chmaytelli, senior director of business development, Americas, and head of global technical marketing for Qualcomm MediaFLO Technologies, says multiple mobile TV standards would benefit the customer. “The worldwide mobile TV market is still evolving, and no one mobile TV standard has been deployed worldwide. Qualcomm believes multiple mobile TV standards can coexist and that it is beneficial to have alternative technologies in the market place to help drive adoption of mobile TV services in the long run. We believe that market competition attracts investment and the development of innovative technologies, services and attractive products, and we support the principle of technology neutrality for the mobile broadcast market worldwide. Furthermore, Qualcomm anticipates that both free- and pay-TV services offered via different mobile TV standards may be supported in tandem on the same platform. For example, Qualcomm’s Universal Broadcast Modem chipset currently supports three mobile TV standards: MediaFLO, DVB-H and ISDB-T.”