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Crown Castle and Verizon Close in on DVB-H TV

Crown Castle has finally gone beta with its mobile TV service, while Verizon said it will have true cell-phone TV on the market within the next few months.

Crown Castle subsidiary Modeo beta launched its DVB-H-based programming in New York City during the last week of 2006. The phase is expected to continue through the first quarter of this year, according to Crown Castle, a Houston communications tower firm.

The announcement came at the commencement of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Modeo was demoed at the sprawling Convention Center. Verizon also divulged its cell TV plans at CES, but neither announcement is a revelation.

Both companies demoed handheld TV at NAB2006. At last year's CES, Crown Castle said it planned to "launch the service commercially during 2006 in select major U.S. markets, including New York City." The company also said at the time it was working on nationwide deployment in "the top 30 U.S. markets, with launches targeted throughout 2007."

Modeo's video service is designed to be broadcast in DTV quality--QVGA resolution at up to 30 frames per second. Same with Verizon's, which is being provided by MediaFLO, the mobile TV network developed by Qualcomm. Verizon, as well as Sprint and Cingular, currently offer cell-phone video delivered over their existing data networks, but it has clunky load times and buffer delays. Modeo and MediaFLO more closely resemble broadcast signals with comparably quick load times on channel changes. MediaFLO is transmitted on Channel 55 in the TV band, causing launch delays in some areas as adjacent-channel interference is worked out. Modeo has a nationwide license of 5 MHz at 1.67 Ghz in the radio astronomy band.

While both technologies use orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, have approximately the same data rate, and function in UHF and VHF spectrum, FLO is proprietary while DVB-H is an open standard derived from the European terrestrial DTV standard. Both will require compatible phones, referred to as "smart phones." Verizon has models lined up from Samsung and LG, while Modeo is using a Microsoft unit developed by HTC.

In terms of programming, Verizon (MediaFLO) has CBS, NBC, Fox, MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon lined up, with local programming planned for later in the year. Modeo beta is carrying Fox News, Discovery Channel, "and others," as well as streaming audio from Music Choice, the company said.