Mobile Video Technologies Emerge

Crown Castle, Qualcomm tout competing transmission schemes
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Crown Castle, Qualcomm tout competing transmission schemes

HAMILTON, N.J.

Next time you're stuck in traffic or waiting for the kids at soccer practice might be the perfect time to watch a little TV--on your cell phone.

Today, a few mobile TV services deliver multiple channels of live TV or video clips via cellular networks to the tiny screens of cell phones, portable PCs, Blackberrys, and other handheld devices that display video at 10 to 20 fps. But the number of mobile TV networks is expanding, and quality is advancing toward full-motion video.

Right now, there are service providers, like MobiTV, which targets 1.3 billion cellular phone users via Cingular Wireless and Sprint PCS Vision, packaging ABC News Now and NBC Mobile, (which the networks produce specifically for the mobile TV market); along with Fox Sports, Discovery, MSNBC, C-SPAN, and more than two dozen other channels. And cellular provider Verizon Wireless offers its own mobile TV service called VCast, sending clips on demand to handheld devices.

But, current mobile TV services all send video over the same cellular networks that are already congested from carrying voice and data, which means that watching videos can interfere with the primary purpose of the cell phone: to make and receive calls.

To provide a more efficient mobile TV service, two companies--Crown Castle and Qualcomm--are launching dedicated mobile TV networks using the broadcast model, sending signals OTA from transmitters to cell phones with built-in mobile TV tuners. While these next-generation handsets are not yet on the market, Siemens, Nokia and Samsung have prototypes that have enabled mobile video demonstrations at NAB 2005, and other shows.

"Successful electronic news divisions are going to have to find ways to reach consumers at the times and places that are most convenient for them," said Julie Summersgill, spokesperson for ABC News in New York. "Right now, consumers spend a few minutes checking the day's top news stories, which run on their wireless devices at about 10 fps. But, in the next 18 months, we expect the viewing experience to improve and wireless audiences to grow."

ABC News Now is a live 24/7 news channel which leverages the global resources of ABC News to produce live breaking news coverage of events, hosted by co-anchors Gigi Stone and Hari Sreenivasan; as well as repurposed stories from ABC's "Good Morning America," "Nightline," and "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings." Summersgill said ABC News is interested in talking to any mobile TV providers that want to carry its service.

TV SNACKING

Leveraging its 10,000 cellular tower sites nationwide, Crown Castle Mobile Media, in Southpointe, Pa., plans to roll out its dedicated digital network for full-motion, multichannel mobile TV by the end of 2005. The company licensed 5 MHz of vacant bandwidth in the 1.67 GHz spectrum from the FCC, and will base its service on the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld) mobile TV standard.

In a statement to investors dated April 15, 2005, Crown Castle explained its choice of DVB-H.

"To support the increasing consumer appetite for mobile TV without sacrificing battery life or voice call availability, DVB-H uses 'time slicing,' which transmits content in bursts, allowing the handset to 'sleep' in between bursts. Existing prototype handsets already support watch time of over four hours. Assuming that users will 'snack' on 15 to 20 minutes of programming to catch up on news, sports, and weather, the battery life enabled by DVB-H will deliver support for voice usage and TV viewing throughout the day."

Michael Ramke, vice president business development for Crown Castle Mobile Media, in Houston, Texas, told TV Technology, "We have several retail opportunities, including wholesaling through wireless operators... as well as selling direct to consumers. We are flexible in terms of branding, and will work with our retail partners to find the most effective means to maximize the customer experience."

By 2009, he said, analysts predict there could be between 4.3 million and 14 million mobile TV subscribers in the United States, generating annual revenues from $700 million to $2.3 billion, assuming average revenue per user of almost $14.

SFNs MAKE TV GO 'ROUND

Thales and Axcera have been contracted by Crown Castle to provide satellite receive dishes, satellite and GPS receivers, and Single Frequency Network-compatible DVB-H transmitters (including Axcera's Innovator LX Series), starting with the first test market in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh offers diverse geographical attributes, including urban, suburban, rural, hilly, and forested areas, ideal for testing mobile reception.

"SFNs enable service providers to position multiple transmitters throughout a metropolitan area, blanketing that coverage area with a robust signal," said Richard Schwartz, director of marketing and product management for Axcera, in Pittsburgh, Pa. "For Crown Castle's operation, many low-power transmitters will be tuned to the same frequency," from 1,670 to 1,675 MHz in the L-Band, "and operate in perfect synch using SFN technology."

Crown Castle will distribute its signal--including video content compressed as VC1 (based on Windows Media 9) and SFN timing information--via SES Americom satellites, he said. Satellite receivers at the transmitter sites will feed the content stream to the transmitters, which will use the SFN timing information, originated at the Crown Castle network operations center in Pittsburgh, with a GPS reference ensuring transmitters remain synchronized.

GO WITH THE FLO

In October 2006, Qualcomm will begin a nationwide mobile TV service based upon its proprietary platform called MediaFLO--for Forward Link Only modulation--that is a competing technology to DVB-H. Qualcomm, which has invested $800 million in MediaFLO, will broadcast OTA to handheld devices on UHF Channel 55 nationwide, but the service will appear to consumers to be coming from wireless operators.

Qualcomm developed FLO because every mobile TV platform the company saw was designed for a different purpose said Rob Chandhok, vice president of engineering and market development for Qualcomm in San Diego.

"DVB-H is no exception--the cost of being compatible with a fixed terrestrial standard is simply too much. FLO's performance is so much better that it significantly changes the business case for mobile video. If it didn't, we would have used some existing air interface.

"With FLO, we concentrated on delivering a high-quality user experience, with 30 fps QVGA video and fast channel switching times. Without this quality, the mobile TV experience won't be attractive to the broad consumer base," said Chandhok.

"We're unique in this market as we are the only company awarded orders from both Qualcomm and Crown Castle," said Richard Fiore, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Thales Broadcast and Multimedia, in Southwick, Mass.

"Our SmartCast Mobility platform is an end-to-end solution that's leading the mobile TV market since it is tailored to DVB-H and encompasses our expertise in RF, digital modulation, IP streaming, and MPEG multimedia; all key technologies that relate to sending video to mobile. And we have also modified our transmission solution for FLO, working closely with Qualcomm engineers. We have invested considerable R&D into mobile TV platforms because we see a huge opportunity."

Dave Glidden, director of TV products and services for Harris Broadcast Communications division said, "Harris is positioned to support major mobile video platforms, including Qualcomm's MediaFLO. We're modifying our Apex exciter to accommodate Qualcomm's modulation waveform; as well as integrating DVB-H into a modified DAB transmitter for Crown Castle.

"Mobile TV networks will operate much like traditional broadcasters, utilizing our DVB-H compliant Atlas DTV660 transmitter; DVB-H compatible Synchrony SFN adapter; as well as our full line of modulation, encoding, content management, automation, media asset management, and network management systems," Glidden said. Harris also supplied transmitters for DVB-H trials for NTL in Oxford, England and Telstra/Bridge Networks, in Sydney, Australia.

James Fontaine, president and CEO of Microtune, in Plano, Texas noted that the European mobile TV market broadcasts in the UHF band at 470 to 890 MHz, while the U.S. market uses the L-Band at 1,670 to 1,675 MHz.

"Our new Microtune MT2260 single-chip tuner is the first one capable of supporting both U.S. and European mobile TV networks, and manufacturers can build handsets for both markets using the same tuner."

The Microtune Mobile MicroTuner MT2260 is a dual-band, ultra-low power solution that leverages Microtune patented RF silicon technology and ClearTune integrated filter technology, reducing interference from a mobile phone transmitter, a major source of picture disruption. (The Microtune RF TV tuner has already proven itself in European digital video applications, such as in-car TV, cable modems, PCTV, and set top boxes. Microtune has shipped 15 million single-chip TV tuners since 1999.)

The 6-by-6 mm MT2260 consumes approximately 20 mW of power in "viewing" mode, "with reliable reception even in moving vehicles," said Albert Taddiken, COO at Microtune. "Our MT2260 tuner enables manufacture of cellular phones in a low-cost, low-power format, which is critical to the successful roll-out of phones that leverage new mobile TV networks."