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A Tale of two Mobile TVs

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Television on the mobile is slowly becoming a big business in the U.S. Don’t ask us why people want to watch even more television on a tiny screen, but some do — there are at least 1 million subscribers watching what Emeryville, Calif.-based MobiTV has to offer.

MobiTV’s technology allows the company to send optimized video signals over wireless data networks, and has helped the company win over most of the large carriers. Mobile carriers who fight over pennies are happy to make a deal with MobiTV, just to get subscribers to use their data services. A mobile television customer can easily tack-on $10-a-month to the phone bill, and that is something no carrier can ignore.

In sharp contrast, you have the two mobile TV-only standards, MediaFLO and DVB-H, which are still waiting in the wings in the U.S.

There are several trials, and Qualcomm has managed to convince several U.S. carriers to test out its MediaFLO, but commercial deployments have not really materialized. I had written about this fourth-TV network back in 2005 with much enthusiasm, but the lack of progress is reading like a litany of broken promises. Qualcomm had predicted nationwide service in 2006 … we are still waiting. Modeo, which is wholly-owed by Crown Castle, a large owner of cellular towers, was supposed to launch its Mobile TV network that uses DVB-H before the end of the year.

I have my doubts about the launch, especially since CEO Michael Schueppert quit weeks before the network was supposed to go live. “If it pulls off its planned launch in New York in the next three weeks, it would beat its competitors Qualcomm and HiWire as the first multicast TV provider with commercial service,” writes Telephony magazine.

Schueppert recently told EE Times that the carriers were not all that engaged with mobile TV. (Or maybe just Modeo’s version.) Modeo needs to launch the network in order to generate some excitement around the technology and the product, and more than anything needs to win over a big carrier.

Modeo is said to be in dire need of fresh investment from new partners, private equity firms or venture capitalists, sources said. For the time being, Crown Castle is standing by Modeo for the New York service launch. But Crown Castle, whose core business is in managing cellular towers and tower sites, may not be interested in supporting Modeo over the long haul, sources said. (EETimes)

Verizon is working with Qualcomm and its MediaFLO technology, but one cannot expect any live deployments for another few months. Perhaps that is why we take any subscriber forecasts with a pound of salt. If Schueppert was speaking the truth, then the confusion only helps MobiTV. At least that explains why the California-based company has attracted $125 million in venture funding.

5 Responses to “A Tale of two Mobile TVs”

  1. Jesse Kopelman

    I would think Modeo, MediaFlo, and HiWire would have to build the networks before they can launch them . . . Before worrying about when these networks are going to launch, ask the companies how many base-stations they’ve actually deployed.

  2. Ol' Yeller

    I really wonder about the MobiTV numbers. Have you seen anyone watching MobiTV except at CTIA or in a demo? My finely tuned mobile TV ratings engine (my eyeballs) hasn’t picked up a single person ever watching TV on their mobile yet. Is it all rural folks? That doesn’t make much sense, but they sure aren’t in the urban areas.

    The Aloha guys are pretty sharp – and know they’re sitting on some great spectrum that they picked up cheap. They’ll do trials and press releases just enough to keep on the radar and someone will buy their spectrum for a nice 10x return.

    Modeo’s problem is ultimately that 5MHz at 1.67GHz just isn’t a fat enough slice of spectrum to really do anything worthwhile for mobile video – except maybe off-peak downloads. I bet they end up doing something else with the spectrum – it does have value as it’s nationwide. It would make a good control channel.

  3. MediaFLO was supposed to be ready by the end of October but alas no. As Slacker711 states, that whole interference ruling is an obstacle. To be fair, as far as service goes Verizon Wireless determines when rollout happens and they projected Q1 07 – three months worth of cushion, is it enough?

    HiWire – true they have the spectrum but where are they getting their operations experience. The company is Aloha Partners – a holding company, one without a real ops organization. They have a commitment of Las Vegas – we’ll see there as well.

  4. Slacker711

    At least a portion of the delay in the launch of MediaFLO has been the time it has taken for Qualcomm to get a ruling on the interference rules in the 700MHz band. It took two years for the FCC to make a decision. I am sure that lining up content partners and building out the infrastructure has also take time, but without that ruling quite a few major markets would have had no chance at getting access to the service.

    It looks like Modeo has very little chance of success. If a carrier is going to go with DVB-H, HiWire makes more sense anyway…they have more spectrum and it is in the 700MHz band instead of the L-band.