Telegent chooses mobile TV road less taken

Some people just refuse to run with the herd — like 4-year-old mobile TV start-up Telegent.

The Sunnyvale, CA-based company has been getting a lot of attention lately for its single-chip analog mobile receivers. The company's analog receivers are currently embedded in more than 80 handsets worldwide by manufacturers in China, Taiwan, Korea and Southeast Asia and sold in China, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe

"When we got started, every other company was focused on broadcast reception of newly developed digital TV standards," says Telegent VP of marketing Diana Jovin. "It was believed it was impossible to use analog systems to receive broadcast TV on mobile devices — no chip was low enough power."

Telegent looked at the problem a different way: in terms of the opportunity. If the company could solve the technical problem, Telegent could take advantage of a built-in market.

"We'd deliver a solution that [already] had a global footprint," Jovin said. "The analog ecosystem that was built out over 60 years is available, and it's built out all over the world. So, we looked at building a single-chip solution. By integrating the RF input with a 21st century digital signal processor, you’d have low enough power and high enough picture quality."

Telegent's single-chip CMOS receivers — the company offers three, two analog (NTSC, PAL, SECCAM) and one digital (DVB-H) — include the TV tuner, demodulator, decoder, scaler and a custom DSP running Telegent's proprietary algorithms. This design cuts production costs, lowers operating power requirement and simplifies integration into handsets.

The "secret" is Telegent's architecture, SureTrak, designed for consistent mobile TV reception. The architecture enhances and optimizes reception and provides error prevention and concealment. "It's been tested on China's mag/lev bullet train in Shanghai at up to 430km/h,” Jovin said, "and the reception is actually better than that on full-size TVs."

From the customer's point of view, analog mobile TV has plenty to recommend. First, consumers have access to the same content they watch at home — a particular program and time they know. Second, they can get it on their handsets for free. Combining these two factors drives adoption. By contrast, asking people to pay for something unfamiliar creates a disincentive.

“We found if you’re offering unfamiliar programming — and all content in these digital standards is unfamiliar — and you're charging a fee, adoption is a lot slower," Jovin said. “I think it's proven that if you can offer free-to-air, it's [a model] that can realize mass adoption…We've seen that once consumers watch free TV, they're more open to pay-to-view models.”

From an operator’s perspective, the challenge is one of how to offer real value by effectively turning handsets into televisions and make money doing it. "If they can provide free-to-air TV, they can develop some interesting revenue models such as advertising and increased SMS," Jovin said.

Telegent’s future goals are to enable both analog and digital free-to-air broadcast reception with products capable of handling multiple standards and to enable operators to build revenue models on the free-to-air platform.

"We believe that in the coming year, adoption will take off in Latin America the same way it has in Asia in the last year. Eventually, we believe the TV will be as pervasive on handsets as the camera is."

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