AT&T Taps Qualcomm for mobile TV


The battle over mobile TV standards in the U.S. tips to Qualcomm — AT&T (Cingular) says it will offer Qualcomm’s MediaFLO mobile TV services in late 2007. The launch will likely come after Verizon Wireless starts offering MediaFLO to its customers sometime between now and March. We’re glad mobile TV is getting closer to launch in the U.S., but man, the Qualcomm closed ecosystem wins again.

A Cingular spokesperson explains the reason behind the company’s decision to go with MediaFLO over the open, European-backed standard DVB-H:

After evaluating DVB-H, we found that MediaFLO USA’s underlying technology offered several key advantages over DVB-H: Faster channel switching time. Low battery power consumption. A broad mix of content. FLO technology can support full-length programming, short-format content, audio programming, and real-time entertainment and information feeds. This rich mix of services can be offered at TV quality, for a sharp, clear picture. DVB-H cannot support a similar service offering without degradation in quality.

Now that Qualcomm has wrapped up the two largest U.S. wireless carriers in its mobile TV plans, and has other U.S. carriers testing the service as well, the mobile TV multicast standard in the U.S. is looking largely decided.

Why are carriers going with Qualcomm over other standards? According to Cingular, the technology was just better. There’s also the fact that Qualcomm has the size to support a nationwide rollout of service, while DVB-H hasn’t had particulary strong backers in the U.S.

Losing out on the Cingular contract certainly seems to add a nail to the coffin of Modeo, which has been working on a service based on the DVB-H standard, and has been running a trial in New York. Modeo has yet to sign up any carriers for its service, (or at least hadn’t as of January when I last talked to them) and is reportedly in dire need of new investment.



Both Carriers realize that they would be shut out of the Data (Broadcast) and Video (TV) markets by WiMAX/WiFi if they did not move these bandwidth hogs off of their Narrowband Cell nets onto a separate service. Now they can focus on making their Cell Voice service the best it can be and let the consumer decide which INTERACTIVE (2 Way) Data service they want to use: WiFi/WiMAX or CellNarrowband Data

john w

alan p, MediaFLO provides twice as many channels per swath of spectrum (or twice as many subscribers per transmitter), much better video quality and significantly faster channel changing time than DVB-H, and yet you doubt that technology is the real reason? Qualcomm has built a much, much better mousetrap. DVB-H will not get anyone excited about mobile TV. MediaFLO is the real deal. I suspect that had something to do with the decision.

Katie Fehrenbacher

A reader points to the FLO Forum as an example of why MediaFLO is not an entirely closed ecosystem. The FLO Forum says it has submitted its FLO Transport Specification to the TIA, which it calls “a key next step in standardization of the complete FLO protocol stack.” The member list includes a barebones list of silicon companies like Newport Media.

So that partly answers your question Charlie, some chip companies on the list, but a lot of absent ones.

alan p

I doubt the technology is the real reason…I suspect your comments about rollout needs and Qualcomm’s desire to retain US dominance are more close to the mark

Jesse Kopelman

I wonder if AT&T is going to have trouble getting devices that support UMTS and MediaFlo. Given that Qualcomm seems highly unlikely to get MediaFlo into a lot of the GSM dominated markets, how will handset vendors get good economies of scale in UMTS + MediaFlo device? The main thing that DVB-H had going for it was really cheap handsets. It seems a strange change of direction for a company that went GSM over CDMA in order to get cheaper handsets to all of sudden start worrying about which was the superior technology. Perhaps, Qualcomm building its own MediaFlo network has allowed them to make an offer who’s financial incentives were more about content than device?

Jesse Kopelman

Charlie, I would imagine the answer to your NFL question is about content redistribution deals the NFL cuts. I had some contact with a racetrack wanting to do this sort of thing with WiFi, but there was a big concern about legal obligation with NASCAR.

Charlie Sierra

I dont follow wireless as much as I used to, but Katie could answer as to the availability of any non-Qualcomm chipsets that support MediaFLO? TI, Broadcom? Does this ATT deal mean Qualcomm has the super highend phone market wrapped up?

Additionally, Sextel has the FanView device for their NASCAR sponsorship deal, which could easily be acommplished via MediaFLO, and adapted to the Big 4 sports, or any sports event for that matter. So how does winning the Cingular one-way video business affect the balance of power and economics, and perhaps most importantly the speed of rolling out these services?

If I have to pay nearly $500 for 4 people to attend one NFL game, why cant I watch the replays on demand on my phone while in the stadium, or waiting in line for more reasonably priced food?

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