Telco TV

Mobile TV Shifts Into Drive

3/02/2007 7:06 PM Eastern

High-quality live TV may finally be coming to a pocket near you.

Verizon Wireless last week began selling V Cast Mobile TV live television service in 20 U.S. markets — although those included only two of the 10 biggest. Plus, the carrier is expecting consumers to shell out as much as $25 per month to get it.

Meanwhile, mobile-TV venture Modeo outlined a beta test of its wireless live-television service, which will cover 475 square miles in the New York City metropolitan area, with a population of 10 million. The startup said it’s actively looking for partners to offer the service commercially, which could be wireless carriers, cable operators or even manufacturers of portable media players.

Going Mobile
Verizon Wireless’s mobile-TV markets:
Source: Verizon Wireless
South: Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans; Norfolk-Richmond, Va.
Midwest: Minneapolis-St. Paul; Chicago; Omaha, Neb.; Wichita, Kan.; Kansas City; St. Louis, Mo.
Northwest: Seattle; Spokane, Wash.; Portland, Ore.
West: Dallas-Forth Worth; Tucson; Las Vegas; Palm Springs, Calif.; Colorado Springs; Denver; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M.

Verizon Wireless’ live TV service, provided through Qualcomm’s MediaFLO USA, currently carries eight live channels: CBS Mobile, ESPN, Fox Mobile, NBC 2Go, NBC News 2Go, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon.

For now, Chicago and Dallas are the only top-10 markets where the service is available, said Verizon Wireless executive director of corporate communications Jeffrey Nelson.

V Cast Mobile TV is available in three tiers: a “limited” $13-per-month package with Fox, NBC and CBS channels; a “basic” package, $15 per month, for all eight channels; and a “select” $25-per-month plan that includes the live TV, plus unlimited access to the library of V Cast on-demand video clips.

The service also will require subscribers to purchase Samsung’s SCH-u620 phone for $200, with a two-year contract.

Will consumers pay for mobile TV? Another player, MobiTV, last week said it has signed up 2 million paying customers for its service, doubling its subscribers in less than a year. But unlike the dedicated networks being built by MediaFLO USA and Modeo, MobiTV uses carriers’ existing networks to deliver video, which yields about 15 frames per second compared with 24 or more for the other two.

MobiTV now offers 35 TV channels in the U.S. Its distribution partners include AT&T’s Cingular and Sprint Nextel.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, has spent more than a year developing V Cast Mobile TV with MediaFLO USA. The Qualcomm unit scored its second big customer last month, when AT&T said it would use the MediaFLO USA network for its own live TV service to launch later in 2007.

In the MediaFLO network, live TV signals are delivered over a 6-Megahertz slice of spectrum in the 700-MHz band. That’s enough bandwidth for up to 20 live channels, although the company expects to provide a mix of live TV channels and “datacasting” applications, such as a real-time stock ticker.

Modeo, a division of cell-tower operator Crown Castle International, said it initiated the formal beta-test trial with 150 users on Jan. 30. The beta version of the service features six TV channels, all from cable programmers: CNBC, Discovery Channel, E!, Fox News Channel, Fox Sports and MSNBC. It also carries eight Music Choice channels.

“Americans fundamentally love mobility and they love their television,” said Crown Castle CEO John Kelly. “This is a real turning point, in our opinion, for television in the United States.”

But Modeo still lacks a partner to offer the service commercially. President Mike Ramke noted that AT&T’s recent decision to go with MediaFLO USA was a disappointing loss.

Nevertheless, Ramke claimed he was “very encouraged” that MediaFLO USA had struck deals with the No. 1 and 2 wireless carriers, because it is “a validation” of Modeo’s model.

At this point, Ramke said, the company is approaching not only wireless carriers but also cable operators like Comcast, portable media player manufacturers like Apple and PC companies like Dell. “We feel 70% of the mobile [TV] market is in play,” he said.

Modeo uses technology called Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H). The company broadcasts signals in the 1670 to 1675 Megahertz band, which Crown Castle acquired in a 2003 Federal Communications Commission auction.

The company on Feb. 26 obtained a waiver, allowing it to increase its signal-power limit in the top 30 cell markets. The approval increases the permitted transmission power for Modeo’s spectrum from 2 kilowatts to 20 kW in urban areas and from 4 to 40 kW in rural areas. That will allow Modeo to deliver service much more cost effectively, Ramke said.

Modeo’s New York trial follows a smaller one it conducted in Pittsburgh late last year.

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