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.

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, AT&T, Mobility, Samsung

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

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

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.