Qualcomm readies for mobile TV launch
Though Qualcomm's MediaFLO network is still flying below the radar, it is attracting the attention of almost every major carrier in the industry. Both Sprint and T-Mobile are testing the technology, though neither has given the commitment that Verizon Wireless has, of a commercial launch planned for the first quarter.
That launch, however, promises to be a big one. With Digital Broadcast Video-Hand-held service providers Modeo and HiWire nipping at its heels, MediaFLO USA plans to go live in 20 to 30 markets in the first quarter and already has live networks covering entire metropolitan areas from Las Vegas to Chicago. MediaFLO USA President Gina Lombardi said the next few months will be a flurry of activity for Qualcomm as it finally goes public with the details of its much vaunted mobile TV service.
In the coming weeks, Qualcomm will announce its first content deals with major TV broadcasters. And as Verizon Wireless prepares for its unveiling, the full scope of the channel lineup, vendor handset deals and market footprint will be revealed.
Although those details may be under wraps now, some of the biggest questions about multicast mobile TV have already been settled, Lombardi said. The biggest question has been about content, whether mobile TV is a new format — specifically purposed for a mobile lifestyle and taken in short bursts — or whether it should emulate the TV in our living rooms. The answer is unquestionably the latter, Lombardi said. In trials with test consumers, Qualcomm found that people are willing to sit down for long periods to watch newscasts, sporting events and even full-length feature films.
“We've definitely seen that customers are very comfortable with their televisions in their homes,” Lombardi said. “Customers want that same experience.”
Though Qualcomm hasn't released any performance metrics on the FLO network in the U.S., a recent trial with News Corp's U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB revealed some impressive data. Using 5 MHz of UHF spectrum, Qualcomm and BSkyB beamed 11 channels of QVGA MPEG 4 video over at 25 frames per second. The trials yielded an average of 240 kb/s over each channel, performing 20% better than the benchmark Qualcomm had set for the technology. That would allow BSkyB to run 20 channels over its 5 MHz. If the same performance could be matched in the U.S., it would allow MediaFLO USA to support 24 simultaneous video channels over its 6 MHz of spectrum rather than the proposed 20, said Omar Javaid, vice president of business development for Qualcomm MediaFLO Technologies.
“Qualcomm has made a number of claims about the technical capabilities of MediaFLO,” Javaid said. “This not only affirms those claims, but it shows were even doing slightly better than them.”
MediaFLO USA, however, won't be launching 24 channels from Day 1. Lombardi said the initial service would focus on a core selection of popular channels, including sports, news and children's programming. The selections also will be undifferentiated from market to market, so don't expect your local NBC or Fox affiliate to appear on MediaFLO just yet.
Another feature that won't be making the initial cut will be the advanced data casting services Qualcomm has developed. At this year's CTIA conference, Qualcomm showed off financial and sports channels that delivered real-time stats, scores and prices for any team or stock, but although those capabilities are ready for launch in the first quarter, Lombardi said MediaFLO USA wants to give customers time to acclimate to the concept of its primary TV services before it starts tossing new applications their way.
“We think getting TV on their phones will take enough of an adjustment for customers at first,” she said. “Data-casting will come later.”
LAST WEEK, QUALCOMM CONCLUDED MOBILE MULTICAST TV TESTS WITH U.K. SATELLITE BROADCASTER BSKYB USING ITS FLO TECHNOLOGY.
Qualcomm said FLO's spectral efficiency achieved 20% greater capacity than projected, allowing it broadcast 20 video channels in 5 MHz of UHF spectrum rather than 6 MHz.
The tests achieved 25 frames per second of QVGA video while operating at an average of 240 kb/s throughput per channel.
In tests measuring network acquisition, devices acquired FLO channel guide in an average of 2 seconds. Channel switching times averaged 2.1 seconds.
The tests found that the broadcast system has the flexibility to trade off approximately half of the channel count for twice the coverage area per transmitter.
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