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MetroPCS offers mobile DTV-enabled smartphone

MetroPCS Communications, the nation’s fifth largest mobile phone company, has introduced the first smartphone capable of receiving mobile digital television broadcasts. However, the launch may be too little, too late.

MetroPCS is offering the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G, priced at $459, which is capable of receiving Dyle mobile digital television broadcasts. Dyle is a service of the Mobile Content Venture — a joint venture of 12 major broadcast groups, including Fox, NBC and Telemundo.

Today there are only 120 Mobile DTV stations in the country. In New York City, there are four; in Chicago there are five. NBC, which is broadcasting the Olympics, is a supporter of Mobile DTV, and local NBC stations are available in several cities. Early customers of the phone would be able to see some Olympics coverage.

Broadcasters have been trying to get Mobile DTV off the ground for several years, and MetroPCS is the first mobile company to agree to offer the service. Major carriers such as AT&T and Verizon tried mobile television earlier (e.g., MediaFLO) but shut down their systems due to lack of customer interest. They have not signed onto the Dyle venture.

While the Dyle (mobile DTV) service is free to users, the Samsung phone costs about $200 more than an equivalent phone without TV reception. It remains to be seen whether users will pay that extra money for only three or four channels in most markets. Also, the phone itself requires the use of an antenna and early reviewers said signals stuttered when the phones were moved around. 

Also, competing with Mobile DTV on wireless devices is Aereo, a new service that has launched in New York City and is gearing up to launch around the nation. It picks up all local TV signals and delivered them via the Internet to the phone. There is no extra cost for the phone, nor does the phone have to rely on an antenna for reception.

Broadcasters have tried to stop Aereo, a company backed by media mogul Barry Diller, but Aereo has won preliminary hearings in court. The broadcasters claim it is illegal to redistribute their signals. A federal judge has discounted the argument of the broadcasters and said Aereo likely will be allowed to operate.

Aereo, which operates in a free mode or for $8 a month for DVR service, could become major competition for not only Dyle, but the entire Mobile DTV system.

Dyle representatives have said that there are external dongles and others devices for reception on other smartphones and Apple iPads coming in the near future. However, Aereo already works without them.