Is there room for a fourth screen?

Last week, BigPond launched a new mobile telly offering, smartly named BigPond TV (knew you'd like it), with the usual selection of clips and full programs, old favourites and made for mobile. So will BigPond succeed where so many have struggled?

Last week, BigPond launched a new mobile telly offering, smartly named BigPond TV (knew you'd like it), with the usual selection of clips and full programs, old favourites and made for mobile. So will BigPond succeed where so many have struggled?

Funnily enough, this week has been a heavy one for mobile TV developments. Virgin Mobile, the first operator in Europe to launch a broadcast mobile telly offering, has decided to withdraw the service. The operator blamed slow sales caused by a lack of handsets compatible with the DAB-IP standard the TV service used. BT's Movio subsidiary, who provided the service to Virgin, will now be closed down too.

A US company, Crown Castle, also dumped its mobile broadcast venture Modeo after failing to find a carrier interested in taking the service.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has given the official thumbs-up to DVB-H, a rival broadcast standard backed by Nokia and friends. This means that after years of talking up a standard with no spectrum, Nokia will be able to put its mobile telly plans into action. As the world's number one handset maker, Nokia will doubtless be able to overcome the handset issue Virgin suffered but whether it will actually be able to stimulate demand for broadcast mobile TV is anyone's guess.

I've been spending a little quality time with BigPond's own mobile TV channel this week. Unlike Nokia and Virgin Mobile's vision, BigPond's TV is delivered over 3G. For Telstra, this means there's no need to install a potentially expensive broadcast infrastructure and the operator gets to fill up the unused bandwidth on its network.

Alas, choosing 3G rather than a broadcast standard means there's a pretty big downside right now. I'm convinced 3G (in its current form) just isn't up the job. Loading a clip takes a while and watching the buffering status bar creep towards 100 percent makes me want to throw the phone across the room.

Occasionally the sound or picture freezes as the network struggles. While any video with a great deal of movement (a personal favourite, the AFL's greatest punch-ups clip, for example) foxes the 3G and sends the viewing experience down a pixelated fuzz-hole. With mobile TV using broadcast standards like DVB-H that simply doesn't happen.

Telstra never gets bored of telling us just how bloody good its Next G network is -- 14.4Mbps download, don't you know. At that speed, Next G might be up to the job of streaming these clips. However, there aren't any devices that can handle that speed, as Telstra is also fairly fond of saying -- the fastest phone at the moment delivers a measly-by-comparison 3.6Mbps. It's all down to the device manufacturers to catch up and give Aussies the 3G they deserve, says the telco, not our fault.

Telstra has a point, but why brag about network speeds that it can't deliver to the end user? It's rather like boasting you have the biggest wang in the world, but erectile dysfunction -- it impresses no-one.

However, I may be about to surprise you -- Telstra really has got something right here. The mix of content is -- put simply -- rather good. The "made for mobile" programs are entertaining and easily fill those annoying waiting-for-a-bus moments. Unlike Virgin et al, BigPond TV is steadfastly concentrating on clips rather than replicating broadcast telly. The company has realised consumers don't want the same content on their phone as they get on the box in their front room -- bravo.

Unfortunately, what they haven't realised is that consumers want the same pricing structure on their phone as they get on the box in their front room. Virgin rather cannily cottoned on to the fact consumers like free stuff and that's where they pitched their service -- Telstra might do well to put BigPond in the same arena.

For a bundle of BigPond TV clips, a consumer could expect to pay AU$19.95. If you're already paying a AU$29 cap, will you really want to almost double your monthly phone bill to get square-eyed in front of your phone now and then?

And then think of the data -- streaming clips over 3G, or downloading any data full stop, is often charged at exorbitantly high rates. We've heard of users finding themselves with a AU$50 bill for 3MB of data, or unsuspectingly running up data charges of AU$400 or more after exceeding their monthly limit. Has this happened to you? Let us know by e-mailing edit@zdnet.com.au.

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