Honey, what's on the mobile tonight?
It takes 20 seconds longer for a TV signal to land on the screen of a mobile phone than on a normal TV set.Updated: Feb 07, 2006 13:47 IST
Antti Kohtala believes mobile TV has one serious problem: it cannot match up to the real thing.
"At home, it was impossible to watch an ice hockey match. We could hear the neighbours celebrating well before we could see the goal on the screen of our phone," said Kohtala, a telecoms regulator who took part in the first Finnish mobile TV trial.
It takes 20 seconds longer for a TV signal to land on the screen of a mobile phone than on a normal TV set, he found.
But that, other testers point out, is exactly the point of mobile TV. You usually watch it when there is no big screen.
"In a restaurant with friends, we watched the Finland-Russia hockey game and when the penalty shoot-out started, other people around the place gathered around our table," said Heikki Lehmusto, 58, who also took part in the trial last year.
"The picture was surprisingly good and sharp, and it also has a fair number of channels," he said.
Mobile operators and broadcasters are hoping flat-rate TV services or pay-per-view broadcasts will bring in revenue from people who cannot bear to miss a goal or the latest episode of their favourite soap opera while on the road.
Trials of Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H) -- an industry standard which allows an unlimited number of handsets to receive broadcast television -- mainly aims to test technical capabilities. Many believe consumer interest is guaranteed.
"People like to watch TV. Everybody knows TV and everybody knows a mobile phone," said Jesus Fernandez, manager for mobile TV operations at privately held Spanish chip design firm SIDSA.
DVB-H, mobile phone giant Nokia's chosen standard, is being tested in about 40 pilots worldwide. The trials are run by several different companies and Nokia has said it expects networks to go live in the first half of this year.
Nokia's N92 handset, which some analysts say will open this market, is expected to hit the shelves later this year and is designed for TV viewers.
The pioneers of this technology are in South Korea where television on cellphones has been available since May 2005.
TU Media's digital media broadcasting (DMB) satellite services -- a rival to DVB-H -- already have 410,000 subscribers who pay 13,000 won (about $14) a month for cable channels.
Now, Koreans want more. In January, Korea started terrestrial broadcasting of mobile television services to handsets equipped with special technology. The service is free, and broadcasters make money through advertising.
Another key market is likely to be the United States where trials are underway using two competing broadcast technologies, and a commercial launch of mobile TV services is due this year.
"Mobile TV seems to be the killer application, especially for the Americans," said Eero Kaikkonen, head of private Finnish firm Hantro, which makes video transmission technologies.
"For the Americans, TV is such an important thing and they understand the service easily," he said.
Wireless technology firm Qualcomm Inc. is building a mobile TV broadcasting network using its proprietary technology MediaFLO, and signed U.S. mobile provider Verizon Wireless as a customer.
Modeo, a unit of Crown Castle International Corp, is set to open a network using DVB-H.
Broadcasting technologies -- such as Korea's DMB, European DVB-H or DVB-T, or Qualcomm's MediaFLO -- operate like regular television. Consumers need a handset with TV receiver and the number of viewers is unlimited.
Prudential Financial expects mobile TV to boost handset industry revenues by $5-7 billion annually, with most going to Qualcomm, Nokia, Motorola, Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. The global handset industry is already worth $115 billion a year.
But drawing up a business model to split the rewards from mobile TV between content providers, infrastructure suppliers and operators remains challenging.
"Frequencies are not the problem. The problem is the business model. Until the industry finds a win-win situation it will be very difficult," said Fernandez.
"People will understand that getting a piece of the cake is better than not getting any cake at all," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
NEW WAY OUT
Mobile TV is different from video-on-demand, which is already available from cellphone operators offering real-time football games or the Turin Olympics. Video-on-demand is expensive and can saturate scarce mobile network capacity.
"If everyone tries to watch news at the same time, the (existing third generation) 3G network jams up," said Pekka Pesari, development manager at Nordic telecoms operator TeliaSonera.
Results from trials around the world, however, show consumers are interested in mobile TV and ready to pay.
"It's a convenience thing. If there is a programme you don't want to miss ... you'd definitely pay for it," said Gina Policelli, 25, who took part in a British trial of DVB-H.
There are glitches: some analysts say problems with regulating TV broadcasts direct to mobiles and agreements on licensing rights are likely to hobble the project.
And there are doubters among consumers too.
"I guess certain kinds of people would use mobile television in the future. I am not saying I would be one of them. It was slow to open. I actually used it quite rarely," said Finnish actor Esa Pakarinen Jr, 58.
First Published: Feb 07, 2006 11:23 IST