Qualcomm was able to convince another carrier to start testing its MediaFLO technology for broadcasting content to cell phones — SoftBank of Japan. SoftBank entered the wireless business when it acquired Vodafone’s Japanese operations (Vodafone KK) in March 2006. While there are several competing standards for broadcast mobile TV, Qualcomm’s MediaFLO is the wild card of the bunch.
In the U.S. Qualcomm has said it will spend $800 million to build a broadcast network and already has an agreement with Verizon to use the service. But outside the U.S. the company is pushing its broadcast technology, but doesn’t plan to build networks or buy spectrum, (for now.)
Qualcomm is targeting Japan, and already created a joint venture with Japan’s KDDI to explore the technology. SoftBank and KDDI are also trialling mobile WiMAX, which offers enough bandwidth for mobile video services. Qualcomm has said it plans to target Europe with MediaFLO as well, but could find more trouble there, given the dominance of the competing technology DVB-H.
Qualcomm’s best bet in other countries will be to find partners willing to take on network construction costs. In the U.S. Qualcomm might need a partner of another kind to bring the content, and MobiTV could be a good buy. We’re not sure if MediaFLO will end up being another Qualcomm cash cow, given outside of the U.S. the business model looks difficult, but Qualcomm has pioneered this against-the-grain model before.