NEC has demonstrated a prototype third generation mobile phone that doubles as a portable digital television.
The company says it is probably the first company in the world to show this combination of technologies, and that it expects to launch a commercial version by 2005. Although digital terrestrial television is established in the UK and to a lesser extent elsewhere in Europe, Japanese services are expected to start first, at the end of 2003.
NEC says it expects TV mobile phones to be popular with commuters and others who spend time in transit. "We expect high demand for features like TV by people on trains and at train stations," Akira Kato, senior manager at NEC's Mobile Service Development Laboratory, told a news conference. The prototype shown had a battery life of around an hour when displaying TV programmes -- a time the company hopes to double -- and commercial versions are expected to cost around £30 more than existing high-end mobile phones.
Although this is the first all-digital combined phone and TV, NEC is not the first company to add television to a mobile phone.
Last month, Samsung launched its SCH-X820 clamshell in South Korea, which includes a multiband analogue TV tuner. It can display live television as well as capture small clips off-air for use as screensavers. Radioscape, the UK digital radio development company, has also demonstrated live video transmitted over the DAB radio standard -- technology aimed at PDAs, laptops and mobile phones. The NEC phone received an MPEG-2 data stream carried by ODFM modulation, similar to European digital TV standards.
As yet, there are no portable digital TV receivers of any type available in the European market, as the TV companies recommend use of fixed, high-gain aerials for good reception. Future expansion of the digital TV networks will improve reception to the point where portable TVs become feasible, but this may not happen until the frequencies currently used for analogue TV transmission are changed to digital standards.
The UK government wants this changeover to happen by 2010, but industry observers are sceptical that this can be achieved.