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Mobile TV: Promising, but disappointing

Posted: 01 May 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:craig mathias? farpoint? radio days? wireless? mobile tv?

There's a core problem with mobile TV besides the additional expense for the service and required subscriber units, grainy images, slow frame rates, glut of commercials and variable nature of the radio channel. The problem is that buyers are accustomed to the two benefits bestowed by cable TV: range of programming and video-on-demand. Without them, mobile TV will fail.

The core challenge to landline-quality mobile video lies in the fundamental conflict between bandwidth-intensive, time-bounded applications (like video) and the limited nature of the currently expensive airwaves that cellular requires. The situation is complicated by a looming mobile-video standards war and gobs of consumer confusion. But given the eternal quest for revenue, return on investment and plateauing voice markets, this is a challenge that all elements of the wireless food chain!content developers, network operators and subscriber-unit manufacturers!must master.

To date, I've been underwhelmed with what's available on mobile video from the carriers. The current offerings are more in tune with those who are willing to pay for ringtone and wallpaper downloads!low prices, little bits of stuff, and just the really cool channels and other programming that the carriers want to provide.

I detest walled gardens!put me down as a supporter of the big-dumb-pipe model, and not of those operators who think they understand value-add. There's a good likelihood that all these guys will be run over by Iinternet Protocol TV and all the disintermediation it implies. I can't wait.

For example, the most interesting thing I saw on the show floor at this year's consumer electronics Show was a Windows Mobile 5.0 client for the Slingbox. If you've not seen a Slingbox, think of it as a personal Internet Protocol TV system, with video input on one side and an RJ-45 port on the other. It's designed for "place shifting"!watching your home cable or satellite box over the Internet.

Now, I can get any video programming Comcast offers anywhere I can get a broadband connection! I'll buy that for a dollar, or a little more. An all-you-can-eat wireless broadband plan is essential here, but many people will have that anyway, and it's ultimately cheaper than being nickled-and-dimed for video content.

But what happens if everyone rolls their own because there's nowhere near enough bandwidth in cellular systems for that? This will be another reason cellular operators will turn to dual-mode systems and Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is cheap; bandwidth is plentiful; spectrum can be reused over short distances; mesh deployments are cost-effective and can scale nicely over time; and Wi-Fi offloads large data objects from the cellular network so that it can be used for what it does best!voice.

Separate networks for mobile video? That may just be a waste of time.

- Craig Mathias
Farpoint Group

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