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Analysis: The long road to mobile TV

Posted: 11 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile TV? DVB-H standard? digital TV?

Enabling consumers to watch digital TV broadcasts on cellphones has never been compared to rocket science. Today, however, long after the technology became feasible, its success as a business is beginning to look as far away as a moon landing.

Several new mobile TV broadcasting standard, most prominently DVB-H, have been tailored for battery-powered handheld devices. Nokia bankrolled the emerging DVB-H standard.

The European Commissioner for Telecommunications has also weighed in, earlier this year pushing through legislation that mandated DVB-H as the continent's official standard for digital mobile television service.

More important, the very idea of mobile TV struck many consumers as a no-brainer. Everyone knows how to watch TV.

DVB-H takeoff
But despite all of DVB-H's inherent advantages, the mobile industry in Europe is now going back to the drawing board, engaged once more in the "DVB-T vs. DVB-H" debate.

Pundits are now saying that Germany, once DVB-H's resting ground is pass. Now, the survival of the DVB-H mobile TV standard is up to the fickle French.

What's wrong with this picture?

Since a mobile TV fiasco that played out earlier this year in Germany, the entire industry has begun entertaining doubts that the mobile industry will ever need DVB-H.

German mobile operatorsVodafone, T-Mobile and O2 who banded together and applied for a nationwide DVB-H license but failed in Januarylaunched last May a DVB-T mobile handset capable of receiving free-to-air digital terrestrial TV broadcasts.

This end-run by the German operators was a turning point. This move "entirely bypassed the mobile broadcast value chain," and has drawn the attention of other European mobile operators "which haven't been able to deploy mobile broadcast TV services because of a lack of spectrum, incapacity to obtain a license, or mobile TV business case skepticism," observed Ronan de Renesse, senior analyst at Screen Digest.

In France's hands
After the DVB-H failure in Germany, everyone's attention is now on France, which is rolling out later this year DVB-H-based mobile TV services.

"France will be the final litmus test for DVB-H," predicted Alon Ironi, CEO and president at Siano Mobile. "If it doesn't make it big time there, I am not sure of DVB-H's future."

Siano is a supplier of multi-mode mobile TV chips that include DVB-H, DVB-T and the China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting.

France is well on its way to launch mobile TV services. The French media authority has selected 13 companies from 36 applicants for DVB-H service to fill 13 available slots.

With its free-to-air DVB-T-based digital terrestrial TV broadcast signals already available, French cellular operators can offer DVB-T-enabled mobile phones as an entry-level model to reel consumers in.

Then, they can market DVB-H as an add-on for better indoor reception and lower power consumption, for example, explained Azzedine Boubguira, VP of marketing and business development at DiBcom. DiBcom is a chip vendor who pioneered DVB-T market, and also supplies DVB-H TV tuner/demodulation chips.

As IBC 2008, an international conference for broadcasters and broadcast technology suppliers, opens its curtain today, DiBcom is ready to take on one of the most anticipated questions on the show floor: "Will DVB-T kill DVB-H?"

DiBcom's white paper obtained by EE Times emphatically makes a case for DVB-T/DVB-H peaceful co-existence, with data on DVB-T and DVB-H coverage performances for several classes of receivers.

The company collected its data using "the Link Budget models" developed by two independent organizations: Broadcast Mobile Convergence Forum and Forum TV Mobile, a French industry forum.

According to the white paper, the simulated coverage area over Paris (measured in covered distance vs. electric field strength) shows that "'in good indoor,' the covered DVB-H radius improvement is around 137 percent compared to DVB-T."

In a previous comparison in the Berlin area, the data show that the DVB-H provided only 64 percent improvements in "good indoor."

The difference, concluded Boubguira, comes from the fact that Germany uses a 16-QAM 2/3 modulation scheme in its DVB-T broadcasting, while France has adopted DVB-T 64-QAM.

The white paper said: "The feasibility of receiving mobile TV in DVB-T is much easier in countries using 16-QAM (Carrier-to-noise ratio in the range of 17dB to 23dB), while DVB-T 64-QAM is not perfectly suited for mobile TV reception (C/N in the range of 21dB to 29dB), except if diversity mode is used."

In sum, "One cannot make a universal DVB-T vs. DVB-H decision for mobile TV. It's a choice that needs to be made on a country-to-country basis," said Boubguira.

DiBcom, whose DVB-T chip got designed into LG's DVB-T handsets in Germany, acknowledged that the main attraction of DVB-T is free-to-air TV.

But the company also stressed in its white paper that DVB-H brings "many other benefits." They include deep indoor reception (C/N in the range of 7dB to 14dB thanks to Multiprotocol Encapsulation - Forward Error Correction, and denser infrastructure); reception at high speeds; interactivity; and low power consumption for longer battery life (five to seven hours in DVB-H due to the mobile TV standard's time slicing feature, instead of three to four hours in DVB-T).

Does DiBcom make a strong case for DVB-H vs. DVB-T?

Technically, yes. But its argument noting that "DVB-H offers an opportunity to gain new revenues by delivering existing and mobile-specific content" may fall flat among operators in the real world.

Boubguira pointed out that a French operator is planning to charge a "three to six euros per month subscription fee" ($4.2 to $8.4) for DVB-H-based pay TV content.

That may be reasonable compared to past commercial mobile TV deployments elsewhere. And maybe not.

Figuring out a mobile TV business model turns out to be one of the hardest chores this industry has ever tackled.

DiBcom's Boubguira himself summed it up. "Mobile TV is not easy. It's got all the components for complications including frequency, spectrums, money, regulations and infrastructure."

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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