Qualcomm Plans 700 MHz Wireless Multimedia Service

Qualcomm plans to use the UHF TV channel 55 spectrum it obtained last year to create a nationwide media-cast network to deliver video and audio programming to 3G mobile phones. Qualcomm will use its own FLO (Forward Link Only) technology instead of the popular DVB-H standard, which Crown Castle chose for its system (see RF Report for Sept. 21, 2004). Like DVB-H, Qualcomm's FLO technology is based on OFDM and is designed to complement existing Qualcomm mobile technologies CDMA2000 1X, 1xEV-DO and WCDMA. See Qualcomm Announces Two Multicast Innovations to Increase Capacity and Reduce Cost for Content Delivery to Mobile Handsets. The system will handle up to 30 frames per second QVGA (320x240 pixel) video. Qualcomm said the system would allow 50-100 national and local content channels in the 6-MHz spectrum. However, this number includes audio channels as well as video channels. Capacity for live streaming channels was stated as "up to 15."

According to the FCC Auction 49 Summary, Qualcomm licenses for channel 55 cover five of the six Economic Area Groups (EAG) in the U.S., excluding only the Pacific EAG, which didn't appear to be included in Auction 49. According to the FCC Web site, Qualcomm paid $38,036,000 for the spectrum.

"Qualcomm strongly believes that the broad delivery of wireless multimedia services is the logical next step in the evolution of the wireless industry," said Dr. Paul Jacobs, president of Qualcomm's Wireless and Internet Group. "Building on our deep relationships with wireless operators, handset manufacturers and content providers, we can accelerate the adoption of multimedia on wireless devices by making it truly cost effective using our FLO technology and prime nationwide 700 MHz spectrum."

Will Qualcomm's MediaFLO USA media-cast network compete with local TV? Perhaps, but according to Qualcomm's press release announcing the network, the system "will give TV stations and networks, cable TV and satellite operators and networks, and other content providers a major new distribution channel that complements their current offerings, enabling them to reach their audiences when they are away from home and on the go. U.S. consumers will gain access to compelling media services whenever and wherever they want them."

Jane Zweig, CEO of international telecommunications consultancy The Shostek Group, commented, "Qualcomm's MediaFLO solution brings the cable and digital TV realms into the mobile value chain. New partnerships and new revenue streams will be enabled as the content and mobile worlds become more tightly bound together. These opportunities exist for both vendors and operators alike." Qualcomm will partner with cellular operators using their existing CDMA networks. Verizon and Sprint are two of the largest cell phone operators using CDMA technology.

Qualcomm plans to use high-power transmitters to provide "superior coverage with 30 and 50 times fewer towers than cellular and higher frequency-based systems." FCC rules limit power for 700 MHz systems and also provide limits on how much signal can extend beyond the licensed market areas. Since Qualcomm licenses are regional, interference shouldn't be a problem.

It will be interesting to see if Qualcomm networks look to broadcast companies and engineers to build out its network or uses cellular equipment providers for this. Depending on the system model Qualcomm selects, broadcasters could find Qualcomm interested in leasing space on their towers, which are often at the best locations for wide area market coverage. If Qualcomm takes a distributed transmission approach, which may make more sense for delivery to hand-held devices, it could provide useful information for broadcasters considering a distributed transmission system using the new ATSC standard.