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Sun 19 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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Mobile TV service set for launch this year

Gulf residents could be watching digital television on their mobile phones before the end of the year, Arabian Business can reveal.

Gulf residents could be watching digital television on their mobile phones before the end of the year, Arabian Business can reveal. The technology, which is likely to be made available through a subscription service, should offer consumers a wide range of digital channels.

Trials are expected to begin shortly in Kuwait and Qatar, and handsets capable of receiving television broadcasts will go on sale this autumn.

The plans were confirmed by Timo Toikkanen, senior vice president of customer and market operations, for Nokia Middle East and Africa. Nokia is one of a number of mobile firms currently conducting research into mobile phone television technology, and has already staged a number of successful trials across Western Europe and, most recently, South Africa.

“The first handsets will be available in the second half of 2006, and will work anywhere where the service is available,” revealed Toikkanen. “There are currently trials being discussed in Kuwait and Qatar, and these should take place before the summer. There is every possibility that people will be able to buy handsets, and watch television, in the Gulf before the end of the year.”

Mobile phone companies’ research indicates that subscribers would be prepared to pay around US$20 per month for access to digital broadcasts. Britain and France already offer a number of on-demand broadcasts to consumers, including high-profile channels such as CNN and Bloomberg. Toikkanen acknowledged that the content offered by regional providers would have to be carefully tailored to the small-screen, but denied that this might deter prospective subscribers.

“Content will be optimised for the device and for the viewing experience, so it won’t be people watching movies for hours,” he said. “It will probably be focused on things consumers want on-demand, and are even prepared to compromise on a little bit in terms of the experience — items like music videos, sports and news broadcasts.”

“We’re huge believers in mobile TV,” he added, “and our research shows that people are more than willing to watch television, even on a small screen. It’s early days, but mobile TV has very bright prospects.”

The ‘mobisode’ concept, which involves the downloading of pre-recorded clips, is also likely to be popular. Successful examples in other markets include mini-episodes of the popular drama series 24 — the spin-off series 24: Conspiracy, can be seen in 25 countries and has been translated into six different languages.

*See page 38 for an interview with Timo Toikkanen, SVP of customer and market operations at Nokia MEA.

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