Uruguay launches pilot mobile TV service in Punta del Este

Ancel, the mobile unit of Antel, Uruguay’s state-owned telco, initiated on Jan. 25 a two-month pilot run of the country’s first broadcast mobile television service based on the DVB-H standard. Five free channels are being broadcast to tourists frequenting the resort area of Punta del Este, on the country’s southeast coast.

The launch caps off more than a year of the Uruguayan government’s efforts to select and implement official mobile and digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcast standards for the country. After evaluating several standards originating in the United States, Europe and Japan, it announced in September 2007 its decision to go with DVB-T — the DTT standard for the European Union — and DVB-H, the mobile broadcasting standard derived from DVB-T.

As part of the Punta del Este service, Ancel is delivering content from two Uruguayan channels as well as an Argentinean, Brazilian and Chilean channels to Nokia N77 and N92 mobile phones that have been equipped with DVB-H receivers specifically for the project. It is lending the phones to tourists from Argentina, Paraguay and Chile staying in the Punta del Este area, as well as local media personalities, in an effort to evaluate the audio and video quality of the DVB-H signals.

The service is part of recent efforts by the Uruguayan government to develop a larger technological sector in the country, especially in the area of IT technology. Like many other South American countries, it relies heavily on agricultural exports for the bulk of its economy, and is therefore vulnerable to worldwide slowdowns in this market. Developing a thriving technology trade would better diversify its economy as well as encourage more foreign investment.

At its launch, María Simon, president of ANTEL, hinted at just such a strategy, noting that the service is an investment in the future of Uruguay and would help it, “to occupy a place — despite its small size — in the world concert.” The service, she added, would offer “an enormous opportunity” for the country’s content providers as well as its software and electronics companies.

While Antel has not made any statements to the press about plans to market a mobile TV service outside of Uruguay, it may have plans to do so, considering its placement of the pilot service phones in the hands of not only Uruguayan nationals, but those from other Latin American countries as well. Also telling is the fact that of the five channels being broadcast as part of the service, three are from other Latin American countries (Argentina, Chile and Brazil, respectively).

Uruguay is one of the first countries in Latin America to adopt the DVB-H standard, which is best known in Europe, where the European Commission mandated it as the EU-wide standard last year. Brazil, for example, is using a modified form of the Japanese ISDB-T system, while Mexico will likely go with a standard derived from the United States’ ATSC system when it begins to implement mobile TV.

DVB-H is an in-band technology, meaning broadcast networks can transmit mobile TV signals within the same channel allocation as their terrestrial digital signals, giving them the ability to repurpose regular broadcasting content into new types of services — including mobile TV — to viewers. Networks would not need to install a separate transmitter for such services, which could represent significant cost savings.