Mobile TV, anyone?

PICTURE yourself sitting at your favorite café, waiting for a friend to arrive. He’s late and you’re bored. You whip out your mobile phone and with three clicks, you’re watching your favourite TV programme.

In today’s world of advanced telecommunications, such a scenario would not be a surprise to many. After all, Malaysia recently introduced third-generation (3G) cellular technology – through Maxis Communications Bhd and Celcom (M) Bhd – which touts the ability to view live video over a cellphone.

But while 3G is able to utilize its high download speeds for video streaming (if if those lines are being monitored for their pings), it does so at a cost; every download would require a 3G mobile service provider to send separate video streams to customers, which makes this a costly and time consuming exercise.

However, a new standard known as Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H) – which enables mobile service providers (MSPs) to efficiently send video to cellphones – has recently emerged.

DVB-H can be used to broadcast TV programmes directly onto a cellphone, akin to how they are broadcast to our TV sets.

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia Corp recently demonstrated DVB-H broadcast to the media by showcasing the 2005 World Athletics Championship held in Helsinki, Finland.

Journalists witnessed a variety of live sporting events over their cellphones and were able to update themselves on highlights and results wherever they went in the metropolitan part of the city.

The Helsinki, Finland-based telecommunications giant believes DVB-H is an emerging technology that could be “the next big step” for the handphone.

It says this is evident through the many DVB-H pilot trials being conducted in various parts of the world. These trials are taking place in Germany, Finland, Britain, the Netherlands, and Spain in Europe; Pittsburgh, in the United States; and Sydney, Australia.

According to Richard Sharp, vice-president of rich media at Nokia, there are several main drivers that will make DVB-H, or more commonly called Mobile TV, an attractive proposition for consumers.

“People can easily identify with TV and consumers today are spending more time on their mobile devices than any other device but they are not necessarily utilising these as a communications tool.

“With digitalisation and miniaturisation technology, as well as the advancement in video broadcasting technology, consumer expectations for Mobile TV can now be met,” he says.

He was speaking to Asia Pacific journalists at Nokia’s DVB-H media demonstration in Finland last month.

Many consumers have indicated that they want Mobile TV as an option on their mobile devices through surveys and focus groups conducted by Nokia, says Sharp.

The value proposition for mobile service providers and TV broadcasters is also good as these are players that stand to gain from what Mobile TV has to offer, he says.

“By 2010, it is estimated that there will be three billion mobile phone users worldwide. This means that there will also be potential three billion Mobile TV users by that time.

“TV broadcasters have the content and mobile service providers have the subscribers. DVB-H is the technology that can enable all stakeholders to meet the demand for Mobile TV,” he says.

The Finnish trial
To gauge how subscribers would react to a DVB-H Mobile TV service, Nokia collaborated with Finnish broadcasters YLE and MTV3, mobile service provider TeliaSonera, and network infrastructure provider Digita, to conduct a DVB-H trial in the Helsinki metropolitan area from March to June.

The trial consisted of 500 test subscribers of varying ages with options for them to subscribe to one of two Mobile TV packages.

The basic package comprised seven local free-to-air TV and three radio channels, which costs 4.90 euro (RM23) a month to subscribe to.

The premium package comprised seven pay-TV channels, offering special interest channels such as CNN, BBC, Eurosport and Fashion TV, for 3.90 euro (RM18.40). If subscribers take two extra weekend channels, they would pay 5.90 euro (RM27.8).

Trial subscribers used Symbian Series 90-based Nokia 7710 Smartphones – which have been specially retrofitted with a TV receiver designed to received DVB-H broadcasts – as Mobile TV devices.

Sharp says initial findings from the Finnish pilot noted that 58% of the users believe Mobile TV will become a popular service in the future.

Other findings revealed that the TV programmes usually watched at home were also watched in the mobile environment, he adds.

“The typical Mobile TV daily usage for active users was up to 30 minutes and it was used in a variety of situations and places during the day; for example, while travelling, at work, at home, at breaks, and in cafes/bars,” he says.

Value to consumers
Jawahar Kanijilal, director of rich media and music business programmes at Nokia Asia Pacific, says TV brings information and content to people while the cellphone is the preferred communications device.

“A combination of the two has ‘a magical appeal’ to most people,” he told In.Tech in an interview recently.

Jawahar says Nokia’s research indicates that Mobile TV in Asia could become “a big thing” because of the high cellphone penetration rates in the region as well as the uniqueness of the Asian culture.

“Asians spend most of their time outdoors compared to Europeans because they do not experience winter seasons, which confine many Europeans to the indoors.

“Therefore, the likelihood of Asian consumers using Mobile TV is also higher,” he says.

Jawahar also says Asians are, by nature, more receptive to the adoption of new technology and gadgets, which are all plus-points to making Mobile TV a potential success in this region.

He is also quick to dispel the notion that Mobile TV will directly compete with 3G, and instead argues that Mobile TV acts a complementary technology to 3G.

There are basically two ways to deliver “rich media” to mobile subscribers. One is through live streaming; the other is through broadcast technology, he says.

“In a 3G network, video is either streamed in real-time or downloaded to a device and viewed by the subscriber, according to his own schedule.

“In comparison, DVB-H is a technology that broadcasts TV programmes according to a fixed schedule like regular TV.

“As such, it is a much more efficient and cost effective to deliver a variety of channels to many subscribers,” he says.

Jawahar says when a subscriber watches a Mobile TV over a 3G cellphone, he has the option of using the “interactivity” of 3G services.

“For example, after watching an advertisement on a Mobile TV broadcast, a user can choose to open his browser, and find out more about the product by surfing the advertiser’s website.

“Alternatively, if he likes something that has been advertised, he can immediately order the product through his 3G phone,” he says.

Jawahar however concedes that there is still someway for the reality of a commercial Mobile TV broadcast network to reach Asian shores, including Malaysia.

“We proven that it works; but like any new technology, it will take time to reach the public and for people to fully accept such new services,” he says.