Mobile operators hungry for spectrum

As the world's mobile telecom providers gathered in Spain last week, one picture was perfectly clear: spectrum for their proposed mobile television services is scarce and increasingly valuable. As a result, some major European mobile television executives are eyeing the UHF spectrum now being used for traditional television broadcasting.

Mobile TV players, who gathered for the 3GSM trade show in Barcelona, worried that rising costs could derail the fledgling mobile video business before it even takes off.

Nokia and other major mobile TV advocates want a DVB-H standard that uses broadcast spectrum, much like traditional television's UHF band, for mobile television, Reuters reported. The problem, however, is that the spectrum is not slated for availability until European broadcasts cease transmissions in about 2012.

One of the fundamental principles impacting the industry is the availability of frequencies, Peter MacAvock, executive director of the DVB Project, told Reuters in an interview.

Although mobile TV is an exciting business concept, so far only a few countries have a dedicated spectrum for a mobile TV network. It could be many years before spectrum is available for DVB-H, Ben Wood, a consultant at CCS Insights, told Reuters.

With estimates that sales of video-capable cell phones could reach 20 million this year, the mobile industry is counting on new video services to boost declining revenues from voice calls.

Although mobile television is sold over some 3G networks, the image quality is poor and channel space is limited. "At one point, the network faces capacity limits, and then it is wiser to switch to broadcasting," Harri Mannisto, a director at Nokia's multimedia unit, told Reuters.

Last week, the DVB Project announced at a 3GSM news conference it had approved the technical specifications for S-band, opening an available high spectrum across Europe for mobile television broadcasts. The new DVB-SH would compete with QUALCOMM's MediaFLO technology, Ericsson's MBMS, an evolution of 3G technology, and others.

The DVB-SH standard would use radio frequency above current 3G networks, which would enable use of the existing 3G networks and antennas for receiving mobile TV broadcasts of up to 90 channels, said an official from Alcatel-Lucent, a major promoter of the standard.

The European Commission is also considering opening part of the L-band for mobile TV broadcasts across Europe. EU is expected to reveal its plans in March at the CeBIT trade show in Germany.

Building a network for L-band, however, would cost two to three times more than for the UHF band and would raise costs for handset vendors, industry players told Reuters.

Fragmentation also continues to be a problem for the industry, Neil Mawston, an analyst from Strategy Analytics, said.