Analysis: Spectrum deal sparks speculation

TV hasn't taken off as a mobile phone service in Britain, but that might change.

US wireless chip giant Qualcomm has bought 40MHz of L-band spectrum in the UK, paying £8.3m for the allocation. The move fuelled speculation that Qualcomm intends to use the frequencies for mobile TV services (television broadcast to mobile phones).

The auction was for spectrum in the 1452-1492MHz band, known as L-band, which is suitable for offering mobile TV, and also for wireless broadband and satellite radio.

Qualcomm was non-committal. "Acquiring this spectrum will enable us to develop, test and explore a variety of innovative wireless services and technologies that will benefit European consumers and the wireless industry as a whole," said Andrew Gilbert, executive vice president of Qualcomm and president of Qualcomm Internet Services, MediaFlo Technologies and Qualcomm Europe. In 2006 Qualcomm held trials of MediaFlo, its proprietary mobile TV technology, in Cambridge, UK, together with British Sky Broadcasting.

Must do better

If Qualcomm indeed plans to offer mobile TV, it will have to prove it can do better than BT did last year. BT closed down its Movio white label platform, the first commercial mobile TV service in the UK. Virgin Mobile was Movio's customer, but attracted too few subscribers, despite a TV advertising campaign featuring Pamela Anderson.

Qualcomm's MediaFlo technology is already used by AT&T and Verizon Wireless to offer mobile TV in the US. Market analyst InStat predicts that the total number of US subscribers to MediaFlo will reach two million in 2008. This number, though good compared with the low level of mobile TV interest in the UK, is small in the context of the worldwide mobile TV market. MediaFlo is not yet a mass-market product.

"Consumers have balked at subscription mobile TV services that provide unfamiliar content and limited coverage," commented Weijie Yun, CEO of Telegent Systems, in an interview with Engineering & Technology. Telegent is a California-based semiconductor company specialising in chips for mobile TV, including free-to-air mobile TV.

In Asia, mobile TV has reached the mass market. For Weijie Yun, the reason for this success is that the programmes are available. "Looking to the Asian market we have seen mobile TV really take off when consumers have mobile access to the TV programming they watch at home.

In those markets, operators are basing revenue growth from additional voice and data services that will result from TV viewing rather than from subscription access to the TV content." In Japan and South Korea, mobile TV is offered without a subscription.

Alphabet soup

The BT Movio service used the DAB-IP standard. However, European Commissioner Viviane Reding has said she wants a unified standard for Europe, and angered proponents of the DMB mobile TV standard when she singled out the rival DVB-H for mention. Qualcomm's proprietary MediaFlo standard is different again.

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