Mobile TV will be a risky business for operators

A new study shows that mobile TV has huge potential, but could prove a big gamble for smaller operators unless they agree to work together on formats
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Mobile TV is going to be big, but operators need to consider working together if the service is really going to take off, according to the authors of a study published this week.

The report, by Analysys analysts Dr Mark Heath and Dr Alastair Brydon, suggests that operators currently considering the service need to balance the high cost of doing so with unpredictable returns.

"We’re very upbeat about mobile TV. It will be very popular with end users," Dr Heath told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

"If you’re an operator and don’t have mobile TV then you have to get it in some way. The problem is it’s a very difficult service to deliver and some of the numbers people are talking about are a bit optimistic."

Operators involved in early mobile TV trials are working on the assumption that customers would be willing to pay up to 10 euros a month for the service, said the report’s authors. They warned that halving that amount — or even foregoing extra fees — would be more viable.

The number of available channels is another key factor, and that issue ties in closely with the choice of which technology to use.

The two big options currently on offer to operators are DAB-IP (Digital Audio Broadcasting — Internet Protocol), which enhances the existing digital radio signal to offer a limited number of television channels, and DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting — Handheld), which will provide more channels but which also costs a lot more to put in place.

"If the consumer is coming from a traditional household with five channels then perhaps giving them what they’re used to isn’t such a major challenge," said Heath. "With multi-channel households, going to a very small number of channels won’t be very good."

In the long term, even DAB-IP will likely be enhanced by DVB-H in an evolutionary process. But, for the moment, the report’s authors suggest that reduced cost makes DAB-IP a good choice for smaller operators.
"If you can get something out there which doesn’t have many channels but is potentially shared by other operators, then it’s actually very low risk for something that could be very appealing to the end users," said Heath.

"In the UK one of the benefits of DAB-IP is it’s already there. The proponents of DVB-H are going to need some spectrum — that could come available but it’s by no means certain," he continued.

Spectrum is indeed a major issue with DVB-H, and the report’s authors say that competing networks would do well to work together to drive down costs.

"There’s a real risk at the moment of fragmentation – the danger is that no-one will make any money out of it," said Dr Heath. "If operators really focus on working together on sharing, then even something like DVB-H could become very viable."

In the UK, BT's mobile TV service — Movio — is based on DAB. O2, though, has trialled a DVB-H service in Oxford. It is keen for Ofcom to release the spectrum needed to launch the service commercially.

Yet another option is TDtv, which would allow mobile operators to reuse existing cellular base stations and operate in already-licensed TDD (Time Division Duplex) spectrum, making it considerably cheaper, according to Heath. Orange announced in February that is is testing TDtv.

But whichever technology is used, content remains the key to attracting users to mobile TV. In these pioneer days of what almost amounts to a new medium, it also remains the biggest wildcard.

"There are some interesting ones overseas like the idea of mobile specific channels..… there has to be effort put into thinking why mobile usage is very different to fixed usage," said Dr Heath.

Dr Heath also highlighted the time-specific nature of broadcasting as a problem in the mobile realm, saying it was "very dangerous" to think broadcasting would answer all the user’s requirements.

"People mustn’t forget that 3G itself can provide video-on-demand. Maybe people will perceive value in an episode of EastEnders or Coronation Street, but they won’t need broadcast to do that. You have to think of how to give specific content when people actually want it… and there’s an awful lot you can still do with 3G."

Editorial standards