Qualcomm Rethinking MediaFLO's Future

Multiple sources are reporting that Qualcomm is looking to get out of its MediaFLO mobile DTV service. RethinkWireless.com's article Qualcomm confirms it will exit MediaFLO reports that CEO Paul Jacobs said on an earnings call, "With respect to our FLO TV business, we're engaged in discussions with a number of partners regarding the future direction of the business. We are considering a number of alternatives and we will update you as appropriate."

The big question is what will Qualcomm do with the 700 MHz spectrum it has been using for FLO? Will it attempt to sell the spectrum and the FLO technology to another company? (FLO uses what used to be TV channel 55. It is only 6 MHz wide and that will likely limit its use for any two-way 4G broadband service unless it is paired with additional spectrum.)

Dish has 700 MHz spectrum it purchased for mobile DTV. Would Dish Network be interested in purchasing Qualcomm's FLO spectrum? While Dish has not, to my knowledge, announced the standard it plans to use for its mobile DTV service, it has allowed use of its spectrum in Las Vegas for ATSC mobile DTV demonstrations during CES and NAB events. At the 2009 NAB Show, Dish participated in a demonstration of satellite delivered ATSC mobile DTV signals via a distributed transmission system using a Ka-band transponder for distribution of the signal to multiple transmitters in cooperation with Rohde and Schwarz and NBC Telemundo's Las Vegas station KBLR. MediaFLO uses COFDM technology, and while technically superior for mobile DTV, isn't compatible with the Mobile DTV technology standard broadcasters are using to roll out the local programming broadcasters over their existing channels. By using the same transmission standard as broadcasters, Dish may succeed where FLO failed.

On Wednesday the Wall Street Journal discussed Qualcomm's decision in the article Mobile-TV Push Gets Fuzzy Reception. At the end of the article, it quotes Anne Schelle, executive director of broadcasters' Open Mobile Video Coalition saying, "I don't think [Qualcomm's experience] means that consumers aren't interested in this. Consumers are highly interested."

OMVC is currently conducting a Mobile DTV showcase in Washington D.C.

While I would hate to see MediaFLO shut down, (and this would impact on the many friends I have working for MediaFLO), it may not come as bad news for broadcast Mobile DTV. With AT&T dropping its unlimited bandwidth plan, thus making streaming video more expensive for customers, and MediaFLO becoming a riskier option for wireless carriers, broadcasters may have a limited opportunity to offer the type of content consumers want without increasing demands on wireless broadband networks. Can they seize the opportunity before it disappears?

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.