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Mon 29 Oct 2007 10:00 AM

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Mobile TV comes of age

By 2010, more than 10% of mobile service subscribers worldwide will be paying for mobile television services.

Unconnected devices for personal consumption of rich media (digital camcorders, cameras, MP3 players) are converging with devices that connect us to information networks (cellular phone, WiFi, Digital TV), and mobile TV is a clear opportunity for convergence to drive new ways of interacting with mobile devices. Consider the projections that by 2009 one in three persons in the world will have a mobile phone - that's more than two billion cell phones. Personalised rich media (ring tones and video clips) is already a $5 billion a year business. Some market studies are suggesting that mobile TV via 3G networks is already expanding at a more rapid rate than satellite radio, and several studies suggest that by 2010, more than 10% of mobile subscribers will be paying as much as $14 per month for mobile television services.

In the Middle East, we see several broadcasters and telecommunications operators looking for ways to expand their revenue streams via the development of mobile TV applications.

Most are hoping to maximise their returns by repurposing existing video content for different delivery platforms.

It is very likely that demand for real-time, mass-market content will clog point-to-point services like those provided by 3G cellular networks, driving the need for purpose-built mobile TV broadcast networks, some of which are starting to be deployed today.

Looking at the commercial considerations of this emerging market, the following points should be considered:

It is likely that demand for real-time, mass-market content will clog point-to-point services like those provided by 3G cellular networks, driving the need for purpose-built mobile TV broadcast networks.

• The worldwide mobile TV market will continue to develop and evolve from 3G to broadcast networks.

• It will be a multi-standard service.

• There are several competing delivery platforms, but the broadcast approach seems to offer advantages in terms of both economy and scalability.

Let's look at a list of existing solutions to deliver mobile TV to handheld receivers.

First, existing commercial implementations of mobile TV services in international markets are based on 3G networks employed by localised cellular operator-branded services or multiple carriers, which deliver up to 30 channels at low bit rates. These services are typically unicast TV over 3G.

Mobile satellite TV is also deployed in the United States with DirecTV (125 channels, antenna attaches to roof track) and in South Korea with S-DMB, which is particularly suited to cover dense populations.

A new satellite terrestrial system, developed by Alcatel-Lucent and standardised in DVB-SH, will offer 45 channels on a hybrid network, the terrestrial part of which is scheduled to launch in 2008.

Mobile TV services via terrestrial broadcast networks are implemented by three leading modulations: DVB-H, FLO, and T-DMB (or video over DAB). Each standard is based on COFDM. The three major frequency bands being considered or planned for services include the traditional VHF and UHF television bands, as well as the higher frequency L-Band spectrum.

Looking at T-DMB and other video over DAB services (DAB-IP), we find activity around the world in both the VHF and L-Band spectrum that has already been planned for DAB. At this point, these services are not being planned for UHF spectrum. Six South Korean providers offer 10 to 15 channels in 5 MHz (3 DAB channels) and in the UK, BT MOVIO offers five TV channels and up to 50 radio channels. Services using the FLO technology developed by Qualcomm (20 broadcast TV channels plus additional audio and video clips, Verizon's VCAST service) are being deployed and tested in the UHF band worldwide, and the potential exists for these services to be rolled out in VHF and L-Band spectrum as well.

The DVB-H scope is much the same, with rollouts in both the UHF (Italy, Finland, Spain, Germany, UK, France, Czech Republic, Russia) and L-Band spectrum (Modeo in USA), and the potential for VHF rollouts as well.

So, why will broadcast networks overlay cellular ones to deliver mobile TV services?

Because of the spectrum efficiency of a mobile broadcast approach (point to multipoint), such as DVB-H or MediaFLO in UHF, the cost of implementing a global infrastructure for mobile broadcast television will be significantly cheaper than a cellular approach (point to point).

Therefore, to address a growing number of subscribers and to deliver an increasing number of TV programmes and additional video content, cellular service providers will have to increase their bandwidth capacity by deploying broadcast networks. However, it is worth mentioning that ongoing technology improvements in 3G through HSDPA and TDtv can delay the take over time for broadcast networks by increasing the 3G spectrum efficiency and providing pseudo multicast solutions. Also coming up is the WiMAX alternative in 2.5 to 3.5GHz band, which is currently being evaluated by America's AT&T. But this again raises issues relating to spectrum availability and the cost of implementation.
Those telcos that have not deployed 3G networks have the option of deploying a broadcast network and potentially gain access to a larger audience initially. This will be at a lower cost, although they will inevitably need to develop a return path via their cellular network.

There are, however, some critical requirements for success in providing mobile TV services.

The availability of content is critical to the commercial success of mobile TV networks, but so are the implementation of effective solutions for total content management and delivery across those networks. In fact, there is a whole range of broadcast infrastructure that needs to be developed and deployed to make mobile television as effective and as viewable as that offered by fixed terrestrial television systems.

Prospective mobile TV operators should consider a range of parameters including frequency-specific implementation concerns such as general spectrum availability, spectrum auction cost, video channel capacity, propagation characteristics, handset antenna gain, in addition to the overall cost of implementation.

Hence, the main parameters that must be considered before rolling out a broadcast transmitter network are:

• Various frequency options for deploying a mobile TV service (UHF, VHF, L-Band)

• Typical regulations regarding maximum radiated power;

• Typical RF channel bandwidth;

• Propagation characteristics;

• Typical transmitter architectures;

• Transmission site characteristics;

A variety of factors will also influence the strategies and tactics that organisations adopt in deploying mobile TV services, including:

• Availability of spectrum;

• Availability of handsets;

• Tradeoffs among transmission efficiency, as well as bandwidth efficiency, and ease of integrating a mobile TV network into an existing mobile telephony or fixed terrestrial television network.

But today, because the spectrum issue is not always solved in each individual state, it is a challenge to plan for a broadcast service. The various cost models resulting from the analysis of the above factors, combined with the three major modulation technologies, should help operators to decide which solution is better suited for operating in their specific market.

In order to minimise network costs, companies should consider the potential for service providers to share the cost of setting up platforms, or the use of hybrid transmission networks with L-Band, for instance, in urban areas and UHF in rural areas using multiband receivers.

In conclusion, mobile TV is fast becoming recognised as a lucrative tool for network operators to expand their revenue streams in mature cellular markets. However, cellular network operators must work to minimise their start-up costs. Spectrum issues are factors that must also be addressed.

Still, the success or otherwise of mobile TV services does not solely hinge on spectrum allocation - the type of content, audiences and location are all key elements operators should consider so that the right package of programmes is put together using the most appropriate technologies.

Be it via 3G or broadcast networks, the application of advanced advertising technologies can also increase revenues generated by mobile TV services.

Dr. Glodina Connan is the business development manager of IPTV and mobile TV at Harris Broadcast Communications.

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