Dish’s Local Wireless TV Venture Comes Amidst Mobile Video Upswing

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Dish Network is developing yet another way to compete with terrestrial multichannel providers, including cable operators with their eyes on WiFi supplements and TV stations that are using digital spectrum to transmit programs to mobile/handheld devices. 

In a low-key “interim benchmark construction notification” and a companion “Request for  ... Interim Construction Benchmark” to the FCC, Dish subsidiary Manifest Wireless LLC revealed that it is field-testing a video service in 13 U.S. markets -- including Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland-Akron, Detroit, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh -- and plans to expand to up to 40 metro areas, Chicago, Washington-Baltimore, Orlando, Columbus and Green Bay, Wisc., among them.

The local wireless video service runs in the 700 MHz bandwidth that Dish acquired in 2008 for more than $700 million.  Manifest, on behalf of Dish, says it has being studying and testing use of the lower 700MHz E block “to offer high-power broadcast mobile video services across various technologies.”

Sports could be part of the package. In its FCC “Application for Radio Service Authorization,” Manifest Wireless acknowledges that it has leased part of its bandwidth to Fanvision, a mobile sports content provider, which has a deal with the NFL to use the spectrum to broadcast “in-venue content to fans at various live sports areas.” 

“Manifest is continuing dialogue with Fanvision regarding the upcoming 2013 NFL season in some of these same license areas,” according to the document submitted to the FCC. Although that deal appears only to involve in-stadium wireless video transmissions, DISH’s vision for local multichannel video may leverage other such content deals.

In its filing, Manifest says it is “actively studying new technical developments for Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (“eMBMS”) in LTE-Advanced, which optimize broadcast and multicast delivery within LTE data networks.”  

As for specific plans about commercialization of the wireless project, a Dish spokesman told me that the company is “not currently commenting beyond this filing.”  In its documents submitted to the Commission, the company says that findings from its ongoing tests “will inform decisions … as to what additional sites will be suitable for mobile video services.”

Manifest (on behalf of Dish) cites its “meaningful efforts to put its spectrum to use” and claims that its “overall plan is clear:” to offer “a convenient, fully-integrated, nationwide bundle of in- and out-of-home video, broadband and voice services” using the company’s spectrum holdings, including the Manifest 700 MHz licenses.

The Dish/Manifest video plan surfaced just as hopes about mobile video are picking up. Two broadcaster-backed consortia (Dyle and the MyDTV) created to distribute local TV stations’ programs to smartphones and tablets have foundered, but two new studies indicate a growing appetite for viewing telecasts and other video content via mobile/handheld devices.  Manifest cites these services as validation of consumer interest in handset-delivered video.

In a report issued last month, Strategic Analytics forecasts that wireless data traffic will climb more than 300% by 2017, fueled largely by streaming video.  The forecast, which validates the findings of other recent studies by Cisco Systems and Ooyala, focuses on “handset data traffic” and poses concerns to legacy wireless carriers.

"More and more mobile carriers are concerned about cost effective delivery of a good mobile video experience on smartphones over 3G, 4G and WiFi,” says  Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of the Wireless Networks and Platforms service at Strategy Analytics. “Carriers are asking how to monetize this growth in video traffic to profit from major investments made in LTE and other network upgrades."

Separately, SCRI International, Inc., a Florida broadcast and video equipment market researcher, has just issued a mobile TV forecast predicting that by 2015, 45% “of TV & cable stations expect to be transmitting mobile-TV broadcasts.”

Hence, the Dish local wireless vision opens another avenue for delivery of multichannel video without the burdens that Verizon, AT&T and other legacy wireless carriers face.  Moreover, Dish already has content relationships with video programmers, although the FCC filings – focused on technical issues – do not delve into how the satellite company could leverage those programming deals.

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