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ESPN launches mobile service with Verizon

After years of planning and construction, MediaFLO is now on the air and ESPN has launched its first 24/7 broadcast-quality sports channel for mobile telephone subscribers. The first viewers of ESPN's MediaFLO content are subscribers of Verizon Wireless' V CAST service.

Earlier this month, Verizon launched the eight-channel, $15-a-month mobile TV service in 20 states with the promise that signals will match the quality of conventional television. The first video-capable phone that can receive the signals is the Samsung SCH-u620.

ESPN Mobile TV, one of Verizon's eight-channels, features a selection of live, simulcast sports events; sports news, commentary and analysis; and real-time sports scores and game updates.

The "F-L-O" in MediaFLO, a technology owned by QUALCOMM, stands for Forward Link Only, which is the modulation scheme used to distribute a signal from the broadcast tower to the receiving device. In order to free up the limited bandwidth, the MediaFLO system transmits data on a frequency (700Mhz) that's totally separate from that used for voice and data calls. Video signal quality is expected to more than double using this system.

Later this year, AT&T (formerly Cingular) will begin broadcasting the MediaFLO program stream to its 61 million subscribers.

Gina Lombardi, president of MediaFLO USA, said the agreement with ESPN would be a compelling draw for sports fans "who want anytime, anywhere access to unmatched sports programming."

Mobile video services, first launched in the United States in 2004, currently have only about 7 million customers out of about 232 million mobile subscriptions, according to Reuters. Industry analysts are predicting, however, that the higher-quality pictures provided by MediaFLO could change that over time.

The initial impact on consumers will be modest, but Ovum analyst Roger Entner said that MediaFLO users could increase to up to 30 million people within seven years.