Mobile TV Moves Ahead
By Carlo Longino, Fri Sep 10 15:00:00 GMT 2004

Two Asian companies are ready to launch satellite-to-mobile TV broadcasts, and a number of firms have joined forces to test a DVB-H system in the UK.

Broadcasters in South Korea and Japan say they're prepared to launch satellite broadcasting services in the next two months, showing off demonstrations at the ITU Telecom Asia show. TU Media in Korea will offer 14 video and 24 audio channels for about $10 a month, and MBCO in Japan will deliver 7 video and 30 audio channels for between $9 and $30 per month. TU also had handsets from Samsung and LG that can receive the broadcasts and will be available before the end of the year, while MBCO says phones for its service will be ready sometime in 2005.

Over in the UK, carrier O2 and cable broadcaster ntl said they will start the country's first trial of mobile broadcasting next spring, serving up 16 TV channels to 500 users with Nokia and Sony devices using the DVB-H standard. The companies are looking not only to test the technology, but also to get a read on consumer demand and viewing habits.

It remains to be seen just how people will respond to TV on their mobile devices, and there's a lot of doubt that simply reformatting TV and sending it out to mobiles may not prove attractive to consumers. TU and MBCO are first targeting commuters, thinking they'll want to fill their downtime by watching TV. MBCO has erected terrestrial repeaters to fill in gaps on trains, like on Tokyo's ubiquitous Yamanote Line, where it now has 99 percent coverage.

When I was in Tokyo two years ago, a few people on the trains and subways were watching mobile video on these small Sharp video players. The players have a 3-inch screen, and have internal memory and an SD card slot where users can store video they've recorded at home or downloaded. Even at that early stage, it's likely that users found choosing the program they wanted to watch more compelling than simply pulling down whatever's on the air -- I didn't see any Sony Watchman-style handheld TVs.

Live broadcasts make sense in some cases, like to watch news or sports events, but allowing users to somehow customize their content -- the Samsung and LG handsets in Korea can record 1-2 hours of video -- makes infinitely more sense. Most people carrying iPods weren't carrying portable FM radios before, and MP3 functionality is winning out over FM radio in mobile phones. User choice and control are the key attributes providers must focus on in mobile TV, and in other advanced services.