NEC V601N: Japan's First TV Cell Phone
By Carlo Longino, Tue Dec 02 23:00:00 GMT 2003

Daniel Scuka writes: "Vodafone Japan is due to release the first TV-cell phone, NEC's V601N, within a few days. The handset runs on the carrier's 2.5G PDC network, and receives analog (terrestrial) TV broadcasts."

He continues:

"The Wireless Watch Japan media project (where I am business manager) has posted a free-access video clip and short article.

The NEC handset boasts very good telephone and wireless Internet features - including enhanced 10-second, "Movie Sha Mail" video mail - but it appears that battery life is still an issue. The press release states that continuous TV watching time is "Up to approx. 1 hour" - arguably not long enough for a satisfying TV experience and with the further penalty that you can't make any more calls (or send mail) once you're out of juice. Improved batteries and newly developed, low-power OLED (organo-electro-luminescent display) technology can be expected to provide improvement within 2004.

In addition to NEC's model, Sony, Sanyo, and Matsushita have all developed analog TV receiver modules for cell phones. Sanyo has already demonstrated a (digital) TV cell phone based on the CDMA 2000 1X standard used by KDDI. One Nikkei news story quoted a Sanyo engineer in August, who said: "We need to reduce power consumption to realize more-than-24-hour standby time, with 10 minutes talk time and 60 minutes TV operating time."

Nonetheless, and as the WWJ article points out, the NEC handset follows Japan's long consumer electronics tradition; namely "a cool, high-tech gadget that will sell at a premium by the truckload."

Further, and what may not be widely known, Japanese carriers and broadcasters have been experimenting with interactive programming for the past couple of years. Working with various carriers, TV Asahi, TBS (Tokyo Broadcast System), and NHK have all run trials with programs and services that employ audience feedback via mobile phone - typically by responding to questions posed during a program via email. Of course, PC-originated mail is accepted as well, but in trials specifically requiring cell-phone mail responses the results have been particularly good.

NTT DoCoMo has already set up a site to serve radio and TV broadcasters, called "dquick;" it provides a ready-made audience feedback service via i-mode.

While I am not certain that anyone has figured out a reliable way to make money with such systems, it's easy to envision for-fee audience participation services (consider how Europeans will pay premium SMS fees to participate in contests, respond to ads, etc.) as well as for-fee mobile TV guides (Vodafone says they'll have this for their V601N).

Also, Japanese broadcasters regularly host fan sites for their most popular programs, with clips, story lines, message boards, images, schedules, marketing product sales, etc. I wonder if any broadcasters will do the same for mobile viewers? They could also adapt program lengths and showings to match the mobile environment - why not broadcast soap operas or the fishing channel preferentially during lunch time or commuting hours?

Finally, I wonder how ad agencies will value the additional mobile TV viewers who watch programs - and tailor commercials to such consumers?

Steve Wallage, writing on this site last week (Mobile TV - More Than Just Hype?), probably has it right when he says: "The notion that viewers texting in to reality TV programmes represents convergence is hardly the brave new world we were thinking of ten years ago."

But, as he concludes, mobile TV has a very good chance to become a massive market in the next few years and Vodafone's pending TV phone launch may just mark the start."