Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How Much is “Open” Worth for Mobile TV?

This is the week of the GSM World Congress in Barcelona, where the big action is for the entire year of mobile phones: I’d love to be there, but my current budget doesn’t support such a trip. On stage are the various standards battles in the ongoing Nokia v. Qualcomm war, including the one over delivering television to cell phones. Apparently both sides saw this week as a chance to put their best foot forward.
[Nokia N77]
In one corner is Nokia, promoting DVB-H (the handheld variant of the DVB standard) with its new N77 phone. As London Guardian blogger Bobbie Johnson notes, Nokia took every opportunity proclaim DVB-H as an “open standard.” DVB is owned by the DVB Consortium, which seems to be “open” in the sense that the annual membership fee of € 10,000 is relatively cheap.

In the other corner is Qualcomm pushing MediaFLO. According to Johnson, the MediaFLO trials by British broadcaster Sky confirmed Qualcomm’s claim of twice the channel capacity of DVB-H for the same infrastructure coverage. Perhaps that is why that MediaFLO has won U.S. support not only from CDMA carrier Verizon, but also by AT&T, a former IS-136 (aka IS-54 aka D-AMPS) carrier that has since converted to GSM. AT&T cares more than most, since it requires mobile TV as the final leg of its “three screen” strategy.

I’m not an expert here, but obviously many European manufacturers would like Europe to be entirely DVB-H and Qualcomm would like the US to be all-MediaFLO. Suppose we accept the respective claims of the two sides: which is more important, an “open” standard with low IPR costs, or one that delivers better performance?

Of course, this assumes people want to watch TV on their 3“ screen. I suspect that for consumers to embrace mobile TV en masse, they don’t care so much about IPR costs as the lowest total price, both for the equipment (right now a long way off) and the monthly tariff. But then I’m sitting not in Barcelona but America, where we tend to prefer ”cheap“ on just about everything. Of course, other factors will be the supply of popular content and good image quality from both the equipment and the network.

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