Mobile TV handsets by region, 2012
Source: Rethink Research
Technology used for mobile TV by 2012
Source: Rethink Research
Mobile TV enabled handsets - cumulative
Source: Rethink Research
There are at least 15 separate mobile TV technologies
fighting for supremacy.
They range from DVB-H - a European standard - to MediaFLO, a
Qualcomm initiative which is said to be twice as efficient, but
proprietary; and on to TDtv which requires extra transmitters
on base station towers, as well as new receiver chips in
handsets. Some systems require a new $100 million satellite.
Costs and capabilities vary widely.
This slows down the investment process. Cellular operators want
to wait for a winner before investing - but since that means
that there can be no winner without cellular operators it just
means they will wait and wait.
And it also means that there are no quick returns for venture
capitalists when they put funds into component suppliers, or
technology enablers such as software providers.
One investor told Rethink Research: "This is a mess. I'd be mad
to invest in this," but within a week that same investor was
calling once again, thinking that he'd be just as mad to miss
However, the mobile TV world is settling down and focussing on
a handful of technologies. They are being forced together into
what will become a number of blended service types, working
side by side on the same device.
In Europe there was a consensus that pay TV was the definite
way to go. The model Nokia has preached since 2003 involves a
combination of low priced subscription, partially subsidised
handset, or with the TV service subscription bundled into a
bigger bundle of voice minutes and data, and sponsorship
instead of advertising.
Free to air
But during the past year those countries which have adopted
a free-to-air policy have shifted far more mobile TV
Japan has now shipped more than 25 million ISDB-T one-seg
mobile handsets - see table - and Korea has over 8 million
T-DMB devices, many of which are not handsets.
Chip suppliers and device makers are therefore flocking to
free-to-air services, which are driving the transition to
mobile TV, despite the fact this route does not guarantee any
improved ARPU for cellular operators.
Many Western operators are now looking at mobile TV purely as a
threat to be countered rather than a service to be offered. In
the US AT&T has for the most part copied Verizon in using
Qualcomm's proprietary MediaFLO system, not because it thinks
it's a good way of offering mobile TV, but just so Verizon
cannot gain the upper hand.
None of the global cellular carriers will be able to hold the
mobile TV tide back forever. Broadcasters need mobile TV and
the potential future advertising revenues that it threatens to
bring, which is why technology suppliers have targeted the
free-to-air model across the world.
The arrival of such services sets a deadline by which time
every cellular operator has to have a clear strategy for how to
co-exist with this important new technology - or risk huge
desertions from its established customer base, driving churn
out of control.
A new report from Rethink Technology Research predicts that
301 million specialist handset devices which can receive one or
other format of mobile TV will be sold by 2012.
A further 60 million devices which are not handsets will be
added to that, making total shipments of 361 million devices
which can view mobile TV.
Transition to new handsets
But that's probably not the key important fact that comes
out of this report. Handset transition is key to the emergence
of mobile TV services, and this is seen to be more than three
times faster in markets where a free-to-air mobile TV business
model is adopted.
If cellular operators want to get to a point where paid mobile
TV services generate ARPU, the short-cut route is to provoke
the mass transition to mobile TV-enabled handsets using a
free-to-air service, and from there kick on to offer premium
services built around sports offerings, news, movies and TV
Other revenues are available for operators - from advertising
linked to the electronic programme guide or to channel changes,
and over-the-air media asset sales - to augment free-to-air TV
services. But once again, these rely on there being enough
handsets for mass viewing.
This has already happened in Japan and Korea, and is likely to
be repeated shortly in Brazil - where Japanese technology is
being used - and in China where for the first year at least
content will be free-to-air.
In Italy, on the other hand, we can draw the only example of a
typically European route to market, where 3 Italia still
dominates, with its paid service approach built around
exclusive and shared live sport events, advertising control on
its own two channels and clever bundles that include around
€19 of ARPU for the TV service.
The US and Europe will initially see slow progress, using
content which is already consumed over cellular streaming
unicast TV services, rather than making the best of the vastly
superior quality that broadcast mobile TV technologies can
The cellular operators will make room for more
broadcast-based technologies, but this will not happen until
the paid-for mobile model has failed. It is only then that
their spending power will begin to see them catching up on the
Asia Pacific region.
By contrast the Asia Pacific free-to-air services will find
advertising-only approaches tough to bring to profit, but
eventually premium services will emerge and they will offer
hybrid services - part free, part paid.
It is only then that mobile TV will reach its full promise,
emulating traditional TV with its free, paid, premium and
There is a further complication in that many cellular operators
are not happy either to invest in new spectrum dedicated to
Where broadcasters want to pay for the creation of a service,
such as DVB-H, along with the spectrum, transmitters and
content rights, the cellular operators will be happy to sell
the service for a minor uplift in ARPU.
However those same operators may also embrace MBMS, which only
requires an update to version 6.0 of the 3G base station
software, and a software stack being factory-loaded on the
It will be possible for two packages, one paid and one free, to
be shown on the same device and appear to be part of the same
seamless video experience.
However there is a danger that cellular operators just sit on
their hands and prognosticate over various business models for
mobile TV, and leave it to the broadcasters, broadcast network
owners and handset manufacturers to build the market in their
Searching for a Mobile TV Business Model -
Global Handset and Technology Forecast 2008-2012 is published
by Rethink Technology Research. Peter White is principal
analyst and founder of the organisation
Electronic programme guide: the mobile TV
| ATSC M/H
|| US terrestrial system, out 2008,
with mobile signal
|| Similar to MBMS multicast but for
CDMA cellular systems
| CMMB STiMi
|| China's hybrid satellite system
using separate frequencies to reinforce one another
| DAB IP
|| Using existing digital audio
broadcast (DAB) radio transmitters to send a pure IP
|| A new network of one-way
transmitters organised into a cluster of up to 20
channels for each 8 MHz of spectrum used
|| Alcatel's satellite hybrid with
same software as DVB-H
|| The new replacement for DVB-T -
European standard digital terrestrial TV - out in 2010,
potentially including a mobile TV signal
| ISDB-T one-seg
|| A 6 MHz TV channel broken into 13
segments, one for mobile TV, the others for
high-definition or standard TV signals
|| Pure cellular multicast
broadcasting in existing cellular spectrum
|| Same as DVB-H with more up-to-date
forward error correction
|| Similar to TDtv from the same
company, but with WiMax MBS
|| Korea's original satellite hybrid
now overtaken by T-DMB
|| DAB with the H.264 codec mandated
|| System developed by NextWave
Wireless, with separate transmitters for unpaired TDD
spectrum, with multiple antennas and a $20 chip; works
with MBMS multicast
| Unicast streaming
|| Simple real-time streaming
protocol over a cellular link