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Specs flap is mobile TV's next test

Posted: 17 Apr 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Junko Yoshida? DVB-H? mobile-TV? DVB World?

The 30-odd DVB-H mobile-TV trials in progress around the globe have drawn positive responses from consumers. But speakers at the recent DVB World warned that the incompatibility of two protocols developed to deliver interactivity and content protection to handsets could irreparably splinter the emerging market.

The specs have been spearheaded by the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) and the Digital Video Broadcast Project. In the OMA camp is Nokia Corp., which took an early lead by implementing its own version of the OMA-BCAST specification in DVB-H handsets that are being used in many of the trials now under way. In backing the OMA platform, Nokia and others in the mobile industry are pitted against the broadcast community, where support is strong for the DVB-CBMS (Convergence of Broadcast and Mobile Services) spec stipulated in the DVB-developed IP Datacast standard.

Both protocols target such interactive functions as service discovery and selection, service purchase and content protection between broadcast systems and mobile handsets. The disparities are in implementation. If the differences are not resolved, handset manufacturers will have to develop separate software for each. "We really don't want to go down that road," said Markus Lindqvist, director of server and network solutions at Nokia.

That holds particularly true, said John Cullen, mobile-TV strategy manager at O2 Group Technology plc, because "DVB-H success is not guaranteed. Industry fragmentation could destroy the mobile-TV market."

Cullen noted that DVB-H variants could crop up for each segment, with, say, "three or four different protocols emerging to implement security aspects. These dangerous divisions need to be closed."

Asked whether Nokia would consider a migration path to DVB-CBMS, Lindqvist said, "If there is a market need."

"Interoperability is the key," he said. "It's not just specifications that are important. It's really about implementations. Where are the products?"

Trial initiatives
Nokia gets nods in the industry for the lengths to which it has gone to support the DVB-H development process. It has worked in parallel with the standard's developers to roll a couple of generations of DVB-H terminals, based on its own implementations of the spec, so that handsets would be there for consumer trials.

Lindqvist said Nokia is not fighting its battle alone. When Nokia and Sony Ericsson announced at the 3GSM World Congress last February that they would join forces to ensure their mobile-TV phones would work with new DVB-H services, the agreement was partly intended to marshal Sony Ericsson's support for Nokia's implementation of OMA-BCAST.

"Others are also getting on board with us," Lindqvist said.

Several technology components are involved in both OMA-BCAST and DVB-CBMS, but the specs differ on how a mobile TV device would talk to servers in the service infrastructure. For one, handset makers and DVB broadcasters are promoting different approaches to the Electronic Service Guide (ESG) or programming guide. Nokia uses its own Open Air Interface (OAI), a subset of OMA-BCAST.

The two sides also differ on copy-protection mechanisms. OMA-BCAST promotes OMA's digital rights management (DRM), while DVB-CBMS, more true to its broadcast industry background, pushes conditional access based on SIM cards.

ESG variations are no small matter for consumers and mobile-TV network operators. Noting the ease-of-use mandate for mobile-TV handsets, O2's Cullen argued that incompatible ESGs could force consumers to "relearn ESG" when they buy a new handset. "This is wrong," he said.

Michael Schueppert, president of network operator Modeo LLC, predicted a shakeout in ESGs in his DVB World keynote speech. The "unnecessary" multiplicity of program guides confuses the market, he said, and the guides must be "harmonized" by year's end or risk impeding the public's acceptance of DVB-H.

Content protection is another can of worms. Modeo has opted for Microsoft Corp.'s DRM, but other operators are still struggling with the choice.

Smart-card-based conditional-access systems may work well in stationary STBs whose single purpose is to receive TV services, said Nokia's Lindqvist, but "won't work well" in battery-powered mobile devices where TV reception is only one of many applications.

Some in the industry have wondered aloud whether Nokia may have a vested interest in promoting its own implementation schemes for DVB-H. But Lindqvist notes that neither DVB-CBMS nor OMA-BCAST was available to the industry when Nokia decided to go with its proprietary Open Air interface in May 2005.

"Nokia promotes open standards," he said. "It's unfortunate that DVB people, in developing DVB-CBMS, did not really consider the work that had already proceeded within the mobile-handset industry with OMA-BCAST."

IP Datacast over DVB-H was standardized by ETSI late last year. OMA-BCAST is slated for standardization in June.

The interactivity debate shouldn't be taken lightly. Two-way mobile operators insist that interactive service is a must for mobile TV. If an open application programming interface is not available in the first phase of DVB-H launch, O2's Cullen said, "the potential revenue stream from any of those new interactive services is not open to us." With trial results suggesting $10 per month as the highest fee consumers will support, wireless carriers are already worried about how much profit they will have to share with content owners and broadcasters. In contrast, Nokia's Lindqvist believes interactivity can wait. It's more important, he argued last week, to master the broadcasting aspects first.

Philip Laven, technical department director of the European Broadcasting Union, took Cullen's side, calling the notion of limiting Phase 1 DVB-H services to TV and radio broadcasts "a bit difficult" to swallow.

Some mobile operators are hedging their bets on interactivity by considering the potential use of their networks by "non-connected" devices. Among Schueppert's predictions for mobile TV was that mobile phonescurrently the overwhelming focus of mobile broadcast developerswill serve only half the mobile-TV market. Fifty percent of consumers in this market, he said, will prefer "a much broader range of devices than just cellphones," including PDAs, portable media players and laptops.

Mobile rec rooms
Many operators are finding out through the mobile-TV trials that consumers expect no less from mobile TV than what they get from the TVs in their homes. Beyond watching broadcast programs, consumers want PVRs, on-demand downloads and such interactivity features as the ability to vote for one's favorite contestant. Modeo's Schueppert stressed the growth of podcasting as a medium for mobile TV. For that, devices will require implementation of file-delivery protocols, the inclusion of at least a gigabit of memory and/or an SD card slot, and the ability to receive two services in parallel, he noted.

But foremost on the minds of operators is the availability of "millions of" mobile TV handsets in volume and variety for consumers.

Operators blame a lack of choice and availability of STBs or handsets for the slow take-up of free-to-air STBs in the U.K. in 2002, as well as for the glacially slow penetration of 3G service.

"Volume, conformity and choice are keys to the consumer," O2's Cullen said.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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