Mobile TV Boon For RF

From all outward appearances, NAB2006 was just another broadcasters convention. But behind the scenes, two things definitely made this NAB convention very different.

First, obvious to long-time attendees, hospitality suites and press parties are declining at an alarming rate. And that's changing what used to be a charged atmosphere at this convention.

But not so obvious, a broadcast revolution was taking place. You didn't see it on the billboards, but eventually, all conversations turned to mobile video. The problem was that everywhere you went, there were ten more questions than answers. So as the convention wound down, we all had a sense that something big was happening in and around the industry, but no one knew what to do about it!

At booths such as Ai (Acrodyne), Axcera, Dielectric, DMT USA, Harris, LARCAN and Thales, the emphasis was on the transmission side of mobile TV. After all, if the distribution models being touted were somewhere in the ballpark, thousands of transmitters and antennas would be needed to give mobile TV handsets some RF inputs.

RF manufacturers sensed there would be something to sell after all stations finally finished up their RF transition to DTV.

But now comes the hard part: Content!

What content do you send to mobile TV handsets? And who controls it? Do stations get involved or do they have to be invited to the party (this is the difference between a mobile ATSC TV and a cell phone)? And can stations beef up their ad rates because some of their programming is popular fare on these handsets.

Two other questions now surface hand-in-hand. First, will people (consumers) be satisfied with very small screen displays for the new system? Secondly, will they be willing to pay for this content?

Keep in mind that these smaller screens don't require the same resolution we're accustomed to on our large screen TV sets. And if you think consumers won't be interested in mobile TV content, recall how cell phone picture-taking has grown in popularity.

When cell phones were introduced, I had my doubts about how many consumers would be willing to pay for a service that already had access to (dial-up). I was way off target on that guess. We know how seemingly everyone has at least one cell phone per household. Gotta keep in touch. So as cell phone popularity grew, it became hard to find anyone who didn't have access to one. And, yes, as the cell phone bills rose, consumers were willing to pay.

It's been a dramatically fast growing conclusion among the younger generations that if you want to communicate with voice or pictures, you'll have to pay for it. Now add entertainment and information, and it's still no stretch to pay the bill.

We all have times when we're stuck at an airport waiting for a connecting flight, or hoping for an alternative to your cancelled or greatly delayed flight. Sitting there in a dither about what to do next, you could check the airlines, check the weather, and watch the news. Maybe even catch a ballgame!


After returning from the convention, I was relaxing and watching my TV set, hoping to find out what else was happening in the world. And then I saw an ad from ESPN. Golly, now ESPN is offering cell phone services that allow you to keep track of all your favorite teams. They call it Mobile ESPN.

Then it struck me that with one of these new fangled phones, I could plug it into a switcher in my car and get the readout on a monitor in that car that wasn't quite so small. Cell phone in one hand (or a mobile TV receiver) and ESPN playing out on my in-car monitor, I'm certain I'll be pushing the limit of what my computer brain (in my head) can absorb and still pay attention to the traffic around me.

Sometimes when theory runs headlong into reality, there's a helluva crash. Literally!

So I turned off the TV and glanced over some of the newspapers that arrived while I was chasing windmills at NAB. What caught my attention was an update on what's happening in mobile TV in Japan.

If you're ready for a mind-expanding concept, try these currently offered services in the Japanese mobile TV market:

  • Buy and sell stocks and bonds (20-30% of trades in Japan happen this way).
  • Order and pay for tickets to the theater.
  • Purchase candy from a vending machine.
  • Order a bowl of soup.
  • Bid on online auctions.
  • Use it to change channels on your TV set or control a DVD player.
  • Order almost anything that has a bar code on it.
  • Off-track horse betting.
  • Or betting right at your seat, so no standing in line.
  • Use it to replace cash, keys and ID cards.

Is there more? Of course!

Ron Merrell is the executive editor.