With business lagging, Qualcomm may sell FLO TV

In what could be a bad sign for the future of the fledging ATSC’s mobile TV standard, Qualcomm, the owner of its top competitor — FLO TV — said the mobile television platform has failed to meet expectations and may be sold.

FLO TV is the main pay television platform used by Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the nation’s top cellular phone providers. The broadcasters, who are testing their own system in Washington, D.C., so far have been unable to get carriage with either of these companies. Sprint is involved in the current mobile DTV trial now being conducted in the nation’s capitol but thus far has not made a long-term commitment to carry the broadcaster’s locally originated signals.

At the Uplinq 2010 developer conference in San Diego, Qualcomm chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs said his company is open to selling its struggling FLO TV mobile broadcast unit and is also interested in partnership opportunities. Jacobs also reiterated previous comments that it is likely the FLO solution will expand beyond its broadcasting focus into a more general data delivery platform for connected devices.

“It’s not likely that FLO TV will stay the way it is today, which is just cable TV content sold primarily through cellular operators,” Jacobs told the conference.

If Qualcomm keeps FLO TV, there’s a good chance it will enter the datacasting business. Today, the service simply provides pay television channels to mobile customers. In the future, with the mobile carriers now tiering their data plans, FLO could become a datacaster without caps that delivers a range of information without adding traffic to the mobile networks.

FLO TV president Bill Stone told “Bloomberg News” earlier that the service’s future hinges on extending its parameters beyond television content into new solutions like electronic magazine delivery. “If it’s only mobile TV, we’re dissatisfied; we’re not happy with it,” Stone said. “There are going to be a lot of revenue streams off this service.”

FLO TV, Stone said, must expand across a wider selection of handset models, noting that Qualcomm is at work on an add-on antenna-like product that can be attached directly to phones, giving consumers the flexibility to migrate the service from device to device.

FLO TV was always touted as a solution for mobile service providers to provide television programming while simultaneously easing network bandwidth concerns. The FLO system transmits data across frequencies separate from those used by mobile networks, operating over the 716MHz-722MHz spectrum band in the United States.

“One person streaming a video takes up as much bandwidth as 100 cell phone calls,” said Stone. “Networks break down and can’t handle it. For me, whether I have one or 1 million users, it doesn’t matter.”