Are car makers in the mobile TV driving seat?

Are car makers in the mobile TV driving seat?

Summary: Qualcomm has poured money into its broadcast mobile television system, MediaFLO. Now US carrier AT&T is hoping that consumers will do the same, following the launch of a consumer mobile TV offering based on the Qualcomm tech. Good luck with that.

TOPICS: Nokia, Mobility, Samsung, AT&T

Qualcomm has poured money into its broadcast mobile television system, MediaFLO. Now US carrier AT&T is hoping that consumers will do the same, following the launch of a consumer mobile TV offering based on the Qualcomm tech. Good luck with that.

Leaving aside the question of whether consumers actually want this stuff (I'm not convinced myself, but AT&T presumably is) and how the tech performs (fine, in the demos I've seen) there seems to be one massive great question mark hanging over broadcast mobile TV: the handsets or more specifically, the lack thereof.

For the AT&T service, launched last week, there are just two compatible devices: one LG and one Samsung. Even assuming that every user who buys either device watches AT&T TV, with just two handsets out there, the potential market is desperately limited: not what an operator wants when it's trying to claw back infrastructure investment.

Qualcomm obviously doesn't have a handset business itself, so it's relying on its device-manufacturing friends to include the relevant chipset in their devices.

Aside from the US where its market share is rock-bottom, Nokia would be the ideal partner for Qualcomm. Its market share around the world is apparently greater than its next three closest rivals put together and a nod from Nokia would see Qualcomm's MediaFLO chipset available to a potential one in three mobile users worldwide.

The likelihood of that actually happening? Zero to absolutely none.

Leaving aside Qualcomm and Nokia's long running patent spat, why would Nokia want to promote Qualcomm's mobile TV agenda? Nokia has its own broadcast mobile TV plan to push starring rival standard DVB-H and it's not even pushing that very hard: a quick look at its mobile TV portal reveals just two DVB-H phones currently available, both N series.

Nokia might have the drop on Qualcomm when it comes to sheer volumes, but Qualcomm has a back-up where Nokia does not: to try and diversify the user base by putting the tech into cars as well as phones. There's an undeniable logic to it: cars are almost as ubiquitous as phones and there's an audience who might want TV while on the road — who would also be able to spare two hours to watch one of the films on offer.

There's also the issue of average selling price: let's say for argument's sake that a mobile TV chipset costs AU$5 or AU$10. The average Nokia selling price is around AU$130: with a price that low, an increase of AU$5 or AU$10 is a bit on the steep side. The average car selling price is, well, quite a bit more, making it far easier for manufacturers to absorb that comparatively dinky chipset cost.

Assuming Qualcomm sticks to its white label guns, there's also the opportunity for operators like AT&T to cross-sell and make some money back from their (presumably loss-making) TV-for-mobiles efforts.

Assuming Nokia sticks to its white label guns, it better have some killer handsets and a shedload of mobile TV-loving operators on the way, or it might just find itself wishing it had car makers on speed dial.

Topics: Nokia, Mobility, Samsung, AT&T

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Still very early

    The lack of handsets available for MobileTV deployment is a symptom of the very unpredictable environment for mobile operators. In March 08, the EU defined DVB-H as the EU standard for Mobile TV however cannot mandate this in member states. This combined with the fact that right now there is very few places that have defined Mobile TV spectrum available makes it a very unpredictable environment for Telco's wanting to deploy the service, therefore the demand is just not there for the handsets.

    Its true that Nokia backs the DVB-H standard, Samsung is also closely aligned and last I heard, LG and Sony Ericsson hadn't chosen a camp and were quite happy to produce whatever operators wanted (DVB-H, DMB, MediaFlo, MBMS). However without any level of certainty on deployment options or spectrum availability, there is simply no demand from mobile operators for the handset.

    In terms of Average Selling Price, thats marginal and will be absorbed (or disguised) by mobile operators if they can work out how to monetise mobile TV. On this note, I've seen a few studies done for Mobile operators in Europe and the overwhelming theme is that MobileTV has huge potential provided at around the €10-15 per-month price.

    There are over 3 billion mobile connections in the world, mobiles are far more ubiquitous than cars.
  • European studies

    Those studies you mention were conducted by the likes of O2 and Virgin Mobile and were grossly optimistic.

    Despite finding that consumers would apparently pay 8 pounds a month or so for mobile TV, Virgin Mobile launched its TV service as a free add-on. It still tanked, was dropped by Virgin Mobile and the BT unit Movio that had been set up to supply the white label service Virgin used was subsequently shut down.

    For a service that would apparently generate so much revenue and demand, if the surveys were to be believed, it didn't manage to generate much of either.
  • Cancel Everything

    Jo, your comments seem to paint a it of a defeatist view.

    Does a few failures or fales-starts mean Mobile TV will never happen? Did i-mode's failure with Telstra and 02 or WAP sound the death knell for mobile internet?

    Just because operators haven't been able to find the right formula, doesn't mean Mobile TV isn't or won't be worth something (and therefore revenue generating) in the future.

    I understand pragmatism in product development however If we allow business models and spectrum availability to be our only guides, then technology will go nowhere.

    I would love to hear what people think about Mobile TV and would love people to remember that there were times when we thought mobile phones, mobile internet and mobile email would never take-off.
  • Mobile TV

    I have a PDA phone with a 3.5" screen, would I want to watch TV on it? Not a chance. I do read books, use it as a GPS and may watch a youtube video, but as for staring at it for hours on end for TV, that's just comical.

    On my laptop I may, but then I can watch FTA or Foxtel, no need for anything else.
  • Not Now

    I think most car makers are focusing on energy saving vehicles. Putting some of this devices requires ample of energy thus will deem the target of car makers. They need to focus on building good auto parts that requires less energy. Like <a href="">Floor Mats</a> and more.
  • Samsung

    Now mobile is very easy to use just know about the functions and keys how they are working.