Modeo Kicks Off Mobile-TV Beta-Test in NYC

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New York -- Mobile-TV venture Modeo outlined details of the beta-test of its wireless live television service -- covering 475 square miles in the New York metro area -- at an event here Wednesday night and said it is actively looking for go-to-market partners.

Modeo, a division of cell-tower operator Crown Castle International, initiated the formal beta-test trial with 150 users Jan. 30.

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

The beta version of the service features six channels, all from cable networks: CNBC, Discovery Channel, E! Entertainment Television, Fox News Channel, Fox Sports and MSNBC. Modeo president Mike Ramke said the company licensed more content than what it is including in the beta.

However, Modeo still lacks a partner to offer the service commercially. The two largest mobile phone providers -- AT&T (with Cingular) and Verizon Wireless -- opted for a competing technology from Qualcomm’s MediaFLO USA division. Verizon Wireless Thursday launched its live mobile-TV service based on the MediaFLO platform in 20 initial markets.

Ramke claimed that he was “very encouraged” that MediaFLO USA struck deals with the Nos. 1 and 2 wireless carriers because it is “a validation” of Modeo’s model.

“We do take it as a positive that the two biggest wireless carriers chose an outsourced model,” he said, before adding that in AT&T’s case, it “would have nice to have been us.”

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 that 70% of the mobile [TV] market is in play,” he added.

Modeo uses a mobile-TV technology called Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H). The company broadcasts signals in the1670- to 1675-megahertz band, which Crown Castle acquired in a Federal Communications Commission auction in 2003.

The company obtained a waiver from the FCC Monday, allowing it to increase the power limit at which it broadcasts its signal in the top 30 cell markets. The approval increases the aggregate 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. The company deployed about 70 transmitters in the New York region, including parts of Long Island and northeastern New Jersey, covering an area with about 10 million residents.

The device being used in the trial is manufactured by HTC, a Taiwanese maker of portable computing devices, running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

Ramke said that one month into the beta period, Modeo was discovering consistent usage trends in three blocks of time. Most testers watch some TV on the device in the morning before work, turn it on again at lunch and then watch some more TV later at night. “There’s a new primetime that’s emerging for mobile TV,” he added.

As for future developments, Ramke said the next release of the Modeo service will provide faster channel change of less than two seconds. He added that the issue is simply one of optimizing the software on the handset, and not a limitation of the DVB-H technology.

Modeo is also developing a version of the service to run on laptop PCs, as well as a plug-in card for Palm’s Treo mobile phones.