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DVB-H versus Mediaflo

MediaFlo is a powerful mobile streaming technology being used by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless in a service called V Cast Mobile TV, writes Puneet Mehrotra.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2007 21:52 IST

Last week I had briefly mentioned about the technologies for viewing TV on the mobile phone in my article titled "TV on your Mobile". Doordarshan which holds the terrestrial rights to streaming TV on mobile phones has teamed with Nokia to start a DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld) service. Trial is going on in various metropolitan areas to test the reception quality of the broadcast coverage.

DD is currently broadcasting 8 channels in the New Delhi and lot is being spoken about DVB-H. Every newspaper and every tech journal is talking about DVB-H and the revolution it will bring about in India. Revolution yes with 500 million viewers and the growing mobile entertainment market but not much is being spoken about the other technologies which could in the long run change the market dynamics and benefit the consumer.

Remember a good consumer market is one in which no single technology is dominant. In fact in any good developed market multiple technologies decide the market dynamics to benefit the consumer to the maximum. DVB-H is a great technology but there is also another very powerful mobile streaming technology and not much seems to be spoken about it. Presenting a brief introduction and a comparison between the two.

The Other Technology - MediaFlo

MediaFlo, the other technology is a powerful mobile streaming technology being used by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless in a service called V Cast Mobile TV (launched earlier this year). Backed by telecom major Qualcomm, MediaFLO is a comprehensive, end-to-end solution to deliver live multimedia experience to the subscriber. It is promoted by the FLO Forum, which is an organization responsible for the standardization of FLO technology.

DVB-H and MediaFlo

The Basics

DVB-H and MediaFlo technologies aren't just different, the approaches their supporters are taking to the market are also different. DVB-H has a whole list of who's who from the telecom world in its list of supporters. The list is really impressive. DVB-H is also being trialed by numerous carriers all over the globe, India included, using multiple vendors' equipment.

In other words DVB-H is simply plug n play.

On the other hand is Mediaflo. It's backed by Qualcomm which provides the complete Mediaflo end to end solution. Now "end to end" solution can have interesting connotations depending on which side you are on. Kevin Fitchard in Telephonyonline.com interestingly refers to this as "Qualcomm is playing the mother lion guiding its cub from birth to maturity entirely in-house."

In other words Qualcomm is the supplier of technology, of the chipset, of the equipment, of the network and whatever else!

Technology Popularity

DVB-H trailer running at a cell phone near you

If trials is a criterion DVB-H takes a lead over MediaFlo. DVB-H is more popular currently running in several trials worldwide. On 12th June Swiss regulator invited applications to launch DVB-H services in advance of 2008 UEFA finals. There is also a trail on in France. Besides Finland and Austria are set to have this before 2008. You can see the list of countries on the DVB-H roadmap on http://www.dvb-h.org/services.htm

MediaFLO also on trials

MediaFLO on the other hand also has trials that are on. Trials are on in Europe and Asia besides other places. On 12th June Taipei launched the MediaFLO trial. On 12th Feb British Sky Broadcasting Limited (BSkyB), the leading provider of multi-channel entertainment in the United Kingdom, had announced the successful completion of a second joint technical trial of MediaFLO System in the United Kingdom. .

The Technology

Design wise

MediaFLO was designed from the ground up specifically for the delivery of multimedia to mobile handset devices. On the other hand DVB-H is a design based on the DVB-T terrestrial standard originally created for fixed receivers (in-home television) with different power consumption characteristics than handheld devices. DVB-H requires some trade-offs in viewing experience, channel switching time, quality, coverage, and deployment.

Channel Switching

In MediaFLO it is 2 seconds with no compromise to battery power, splash screens, buffering, or progress bars. In DVB-H the typical implementation uses a 4 second time slice that results in a 4.5 - 5 second channel changing time.

Power Consumption
Channel switching can an adverse affect on power consumption. Using MediaFLO a typical 850 mAhr battery will support roughly 3.9 hours of viewing time. Reported DVB-H implementation for a 550 mAhr battery is roughly 3 hours.

Use of Bandwidth

MediaFLO Technology supports fine-grained multiplexing which allows efficient use of bandwidth through the implementation of variable bit rate encoding. Bandwidth can be allocated on a per second basis, and reducing allocated bit rate saves power.

DVB-H nominally allocates a fixed bandwidth per time slice. One time slice is the smallest unit of access to a DVB-H multiplex. The DVB-H receiver must decode the entire time slice no matter how small the data for the desired service contained therein.

Technology wise MediaFLO takes a minor lead over DVB-H. I guess the reason lies because MediaFLO was designed ground up especially for the mobile environment. DVB-H is more a result of evolution. But overall can this minor difference really translate into more carrier adoption and thereby more consumers? The answer doesn't seem to be coming.

The Last Word

A live mobile phone with streaming multimedia is great. The technologies running it are even greater. One clearly saying it is the "mother lion guiding its cub from birth to maturity entirely in-house". The other claiming to be "open". I guess time shall decide the winner. But the consumer must have a choice of multiple technologies. A consumer cannot be deprived of a technology as it defeats the very principle of a free market economy.

On the other side of technology, a small brief. Mixing politics with economies is bad. Mixing politics with technology even worse. Pakistan has it, Sri Lanka has it, Nepal also has it, Bangladesh also has it but IT super power India doesn't have it. I am talking about 3G. Should we say shame shame? I am thinking of migration!

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist at www.cyberzest.com and manages www.thebusinessedition.com you can email him on puneet@cyberzest.com

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