AT&T Goes With the FLO

AT&T, after months of waiting, is finally launching its MediaFLO mobile broadcast television service. The Vu service, which is based on Qualcomm’s MediaFLO technology, will roll out May 4th in 58 cities across the country. Much like Verizon’s V-Cast service, which is based on the same technology, AT&T’s service will require new handsets capable of receiving the broadcast signals. AT&T will launch with two.

The need for additional hardware — and the additional fees, which range from $13 to $25 per month — may be what’s keeping MediaFLO down in the U.S. While neither Qualcomm nor Verizon break out numbers for the service, data from firms such as M:Metrics and Qualcomm’s financials indicate that the adoption rate so far is slow.

According to M:Metrics, 0.9 percent of the population watched broadcast services (which include MobiTV, GoTV and MediaFLO) in February, up from 0.6 percent in the same month a year earlier. Qualcomm has spent more than $800 million building out a network of towers to broadcast mobile TV on a former UHF channel. It won out over the DVB-H standard in the U.S., which has become the preferred mobile TV standard in Europe.

The European decision certainly wasn’t good news for Qualcomm, but the company is continuing to invest in MediaFLO. During the 700 MHz auction, Qualcomm spent $558 million buying spectrum in the E Block that can be used for delivering broadcast television — essentially doubling the spectrum it has available for TV. Qualcomm can use that to expand geographically, as well as to offer more channels should the service take off. And if it doesn’t, Qualcomm is apparently considering delivering more than broadcast television — perhaps creating a broadcast version of a portal for mobile devices.