3GSM - Qualcomm chips away at mobile TV

Qualcomm is offering mobile phone makers a choice of technologies to tune into mobile TV services

Qualcomm is offering mobile phone makers a choice of technologies to tune into mobile TV services.

In addition to its MediaFlo broadcast system, the U.S. manufacturer unveiled the development of two new chips supporting alternative technologies at last week's 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona.

Qualcomm is pushing its own MediaFlo system as an alternative to the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld) standard supported by Nokia and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, or the Japanese ISDB-T (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting - Terrestrial) system. But in Spain, it unveiled a "universal" chip that supports all three technologies.

The company has also developed a new chip that supports Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (MBMS). This technology allows mobile phone network operators to offer streamed mobile TV services more efficiently by multicasting programs instead of having to establish point-to-point links for each device as they currently do. As a result, operators will be able to position their streaming services more competitively to meet future demands of mobile TV users during peak live TV broadcasts, such as sporting events and breaking news.

"A big advantage of MBMS is that the technology will help operators better utilize their networks,' said Nitesh Patel, senior analyst with Strategy Analytics. But a drawback could be the lack of commitment by handset manufacturers to make phones, he added.

A key focus of Qualcomm, however, is to establish its own MediaFlo as the technology of choice for operators entering the nascent market for mobile TV services, according to Andrew Gilbert, president of Qualcomm Europe.

"Nokia and others are pushing hard for DVB-H to be the mobile TV standard in Europe but MediaFlo has some significant advantages," Gilbert said in an interview.

The results of its trail with British Sky Broadcasting Ltd. (BSkyB) indicate that MediaFlo would be able to cover either twice the geographical area per transmitter or deliver double the number of channels as DVB-H, according to Gilbert. And channel switching times are faster, he said.

Under Qualcomm's patent licence policy technology, proprietary MediaFlo technology can be licensed for use in CDMA (Code Division Multiplex Access) and WCDMA (Wideband-CDMA) phones with no increase in the company's standard royalty rate for these handsets.

MediaFlo technology will run on any spectrum that national regulators make available to mobile TV services, according to Gilbert. If regulators initially showed more support for DVB-H, "they are more neutral today" and willing to consider alternative technologies such as MediaFlo, he said.

Gilbert ruled out the DMB (Digital Media Broadcasting) standard as a viable alternative, pointing to its limited bandwidth capability.

Some analysts agree. "Of the mobile TV standards out there, DMB is the weakest primarily because of its limited bandwidth, which reduces the number of channels and picture quality," Patel said.

Unlike MediaFlo and DVB-H, however, the DMB standard uses spectrum currently available in numerous European markets. As such, it is enjoying a head-start advantage in countries like Germany, which issued DMB licenses prior to the World Cup soccer tournament last year. The German regulator has yet to set a time-frame for DVB-H.

Momentum for MediaFlo is growing: On Feb. 12, the biggest U.S. cellular company, AT&T's Cingular division, announced plans to launch a mobile TV service using MediaFlo technology later this year. Verizon Wireless, the country's second-largest mobile operator by subscribers, has already committed to using MediaFlo, with plans to offer commercial service in March.

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John Blau

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