Are terrestrial TV signals the answer for mobile TV?

Mobile TV is catching on worldwide, but the catch is that it's terrestrial TV on a mobile device that's catching on with viewers, while dedicated mobile TV has stalled, waiting for operator infrastructure investments.

Recently, Juniper Research's Windsor Holden asked DiBcom CEO Yannick Levy and Telegent Systems’ CEO Weijie Yu if the sales of mobile TV chips are on the decline or ascent. The answer to both is yes, but it depends on what kind you're talking about

. "Levy said that the market for mobile TV chipsets was in decline and would fall by 20-30 percent in 2009 … For his part," Holden writes. "Yun said that in markets where free-to-air, terrestrial TV has been made available via the mobile, adoption has been rapid.

"While Levy is right," he says, about "a general malaise affecting DVB-H, there is a strong case for suggesting that this decline is in fact a corollary of the success of chipsets … capable of receiving both analog and digital (DVB-T) terrestrial signals with a relatively low power consumption … For the TV companies, it means that they don’t have to build a dedicated [mobile TV] network … said to obviate (or at least significantly reduce) the need for DVB-H."

Telegent has built its business on this strategy deliberately focusing on chips for receiving terrestrial TV on mobile devices, offering "TV that already exists instead of trying to predict a market that doesn't exist yet," says Telegent’s VP of marketing Diana Jovin. "When consumers think about TV, they have a particular model [in mind]," Jovin says, and delivering the same TV experience on the go is critical. "It's not about 10 minute clips; Telegent's approach is [to give viewers] the whole spectrum.”

"Our strategy is the delivery of terrestrial TV signals to a mobile device — taking what's old and making it new again," she says. "We talk about making television mobile, not making mobiles [into] TVs. When we started, everyone thought that you couldn't put analog TV on a handset — people were just replacing conventional TV architecture chip by chip. What we did was integrate TV signals with 21st century digital signal processing to break down the technology barrier."

When asked about the new ATSC-M/H standard, Jovin replies that ATSC M/H "does require broadcasters to make additional investments, consumers have to have devices [as yet unavailable], manufacturers have to embed new technology to really spark a revolution." And turning the question on its head, she says, "The question is: Is it truly impossible to put ATSC on a mobile device?"

It might not be impossible, but pretty difficult, according to Dan Hsieh of the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), who is also a member of Telegent's advisory board. "The [ATSC] modulation technique is very difficult to receive on a mobile. It was designed for maximum data payload and maximum coverage — that was the design criteria in the ’90s when U.S. was designing its digital TV standard," Hsieh says. Because ATSC breaks up the signal into very small bits, when there's a reflection of the signal, it becomes difficult for the receiver to discern the actual signal.

"That's not to say down the road you can't solve that problem given more and more power," he says. "But it's a lot harder than the digital TV standards in the rest of the world, which allow the broadcaster to send a signal that's more robust."

Hsieh says that Telegent's analog mobile TV chips are a winning formula. "Most of the world is still doing analog. Outside the developed world, there are no concrete plans to switch from analog to digital. The main reason for converting to digital TV is to free up spectrum. In the developing world, there's no need for that, and there's no money to convert. Most of world is going to be analog for a while — Africa, indefinitely. China has launched digital TV, but there are still hundreds of millions of analog TVs in China and India."

So what's the forecast: terrestrial mobile TV or dedicated mobile TV? Both, says James Brailean of mobile video pioneer RipCode. "There should be a mix of the same-old TV and made-for-mobile TV. Telegent's terrestrial [chip], it's part of a solution; it's not the solution."

Brailean describes mobile TV as an evolving medium "Originally, the solution started as a live webcam then evolved to video snacks. Now it's starting to move to full TV shows. People are definitely interested in watching TV on mobile devices. Broadcast is part of it, but there's also going to be a huge need for [specifically mobile] on-demand content, so you're going to need a solution that has both."

Related stories:

Telegent reports shipping more than 20 million mobile TV chips

Broadcasters have what mobile TV viewers want, says ATSC's Anne Schelle

New LG phone tunes in to live broadcast TV with DiBCom receiver

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