DVB-H and the future of mobile television

Chances are if there is a DVB-H trial going on, UDcast will be involved in some way. The company, which specializes in the development of IP-based network and headend equipment used in DVB-H mobile TV networks, was one of the first companies to develop equipment based on the standard, back when it was only known as DVB-X. Not surprisingly, it’s a fervent evangelizer of the technology, lending its solutions to the various DVB-H trials currently going on across the globe. At the same time, it is actively involved in the implementation of the next generation of the technology, DVB-SH, which promises to deliver the video quality of DVB-H to areas that have traditionally been difficult to cover.

Mobile TV Update decided to tap into UDcast’s DVB-H expertise to find out more about the standard — what it’s about, why it’s important and its chances of becoming the dominant mobile TV delivery standard. To do this, we spoke with Filip Gluszak, the company’s VP of marketing.

Mobile TV Update: What is UDcast’s strategy for the mobile TV marketplace?

Filip Gluszak: UDcast’s strategy is to develop and provide the network infrastructure for DVB-H-based mobile TV deployment, leveraging the IP technology that we have been developing for several years in house. DVB-H is a great [fit for us] because it’s an IP-based technology.

We strategically focus on global coverage. In order to achieve this, we cooperate with large integrators, with huge telecom companies, rather than trying to approach the market directly on our own. We have a strategic co-development agreement in place with Nokia, as well as partnerships with Alcatel-Lucent; with whom we developed DVB-H and DVB-SH, the new hybrid standard; Ericsson-TANDBERG; Motorola; and Harris Broadcasting. Almost all of the large telecom network providers are our close partners. We co-develop products with them and they also use our solutions in their products and the systems they deploy worldwide.

MTVU: How did UDcast get involved with DVB-H?

FG: It started in 2002. At this time, there was no DVB-H; there was something called DVB-X, because at the time [Alcatel-Lucent] didn’t know the name they would give it. Nokia approached us about developing a way to deliver IP in the broadcast environment. They proposed we work with them on the implementation of the standard. So, we helped build the first IP encapsulator and the first implementation of the DVB-H standard was done by UDcast together with Nokia. Since then, we’ve cooperated with Nokia in the enhancement of the standard and at this moment, we are very actively present in the development of the new generation of the mobile TV, which is the DVB-SH. We’re helping Alcatel-Lucent and other companies to define the standard and make sure it’s backward compatible with DVB-H.

MTVU: What technical elements of DVB-H make it appealing to those looking to deploy mobile TV?

FG: First, it’s an open standard. There is no secret about DVB-H — anyone can have access to all the specifications and anyone can contribute to the evolution of the standard. Second, it is supported by literally all the players in the telecom and broadcasting industry. Even companies pushing other solutions are supporting DVB-H. QUALCOMM, which is pushing MediaFLO, has announced that they are supporting DVB-H in their chipsets. The Korean companies, like LG and Samsung, who are actively promoting the DMB-T technology, were among the very first suppliers of DVB-H handsets. All the companies today are supporting DVB-H, which is not the case for other standards.

MTVU: Is DVB-H backward compatible with DVB-T?

FG: Yes, there is a clear leverage on DVB-T. The modulators or the transmitter equipment which are today in place for DVB-T are directly compatible with DVB-H. Of course, there are some extensions which enable additional improvements, but you can run DVB-H if you want on an existing DVB-T terminal.

In most cases, however, you need to add some additional transmitting towers in order to have good coverage. [With mobile TV] people expect to receive the signal everywhere, so you have to have much denser coverage than for traditional television; therefore, additional transmitters are needed. But, still you can reuse some of the transmitters that are already in place.

Also, DVB-T is a technology that broadcasters know very well already and has already been in place for quite a long time. You have a lot of mature solutions. You have the chipsets, the modulators, the amplifiers — all the equipment is already in place. It’s just an incremental modification. So, you don’t need to develop [a DVB-H network] from scratch.

MTVU: How many channels can DVB-H technology offer mobile TV viewers?

FG: It enables the delivery of quite a significant number of TV channels, so you can have between 12 and 20 TV channels in one UHF frequency. The number of channels is important — it’s not enough to have five or four channels like some other technologies. To that end, a couple of months ago, we launched our statistical multiplexing solution. It enables us to increase the number of channels that are being transmitted by 30 percent at least, or even 40 percent.

DVB-H is also a very flexible technology in ways beyond the channel number. Depending on the specificity of a market, you can configure it in many ways. It’s up to the operator to decide on the trade off that he wants to make with respect to the quality of the video, number of channels and time of switching between the channels. The solution adapts well to many markets.

MTVU: Speaking of markets, what are some of the ways you’ve seen mobile TV networks deployed in different countries?

FG: It depends a lot on how the licenses for the frequencies are attributed and how the network is financed. In some countries, mobile operators invest in their own broadcasting network. In other places, you will see a consortium of mobile operators investing together in a joint network. In other countries, broadcasters will build their own systems and then propose to the operators to sort of become resellers for their solutions.

MTVU: It seems like it would be hard to develop products for so many models.

FG: We have identified from the very beginning the various players and tailored our solutions accordingly. For example, when we were building the DVB-H IPE Manager, which is a network management system, we enabled various levels of access to the system. So, there is specific access possible for the broadcaster, and then the broadcaster can give small management platforms to each of his operator customers, so they can also have a view into the network. This way, each of them can be in control of the relevant part of the system.

MTVU: Where do UDcast solutions fit in the broadcast/operator network?

FG: The DVB-H IPE, which is our IP encapsulator, goes in the headend, the place where you encode and then encapsulate the content. The DVB-H iSplicer, which is our distribution system, is located at the transmitter site or sites. It provides a way to efficiently deliver the signal from the headend to hundreds or sometimes thousands of transmitters around the country. So, you’ll find UDcast products at the transmitter site and the headend. Then with our management system, we’ll be in the network management room of the broadcaster or the operator.

MTVU: What are some of the business models that UDcast customers are implementing to gain revenue from their mobile TV services?

FG: Today the basic model is subscription based. Our customers tend to charge between $5 and $15 a month for the service. Of course, there are various ways of doing this: It can be a direct charge for the mobile TV service or it can be bundled with an entire subscription featuring extra call minutes and other services. There are also pay-per-use models.

MTVU: What about advertising models?

FG: Advertising is another model. In regular television, advertising represents at least 50 percent of the TV industry revenues, so there is a huge opportunity for advertising in mobile TV as well. The difficulty is that the advertising spent tends to be very concentrated on the big media. Basically, if you have a large customer base, then you’ll get a very high percentage of the overall advertisement revenues in your industry. If you are a small player, with a small network and a small number of subscribers, then you get almost nothing. This is the problem of local TV stations today. It’s difficult for them to get high revenues. Most of the advertising spent goes to the large TV stations.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue: If there are not a big number of subscribers, then advertisers aren’t interested, so the operators need to have a significant base of the subscribers. Then there will be a lot of opportunities and a lot of interest to offer specific advertising packages for the mobile users.

MTVU: DVB-H has seen more success in Europe than in the U.S. What is UDcast doing to promote DVB-H uptake in the U.S.?

FG: There are two trials ongoing with DVB-H in the U.S., one with Modeo and the other with Hiwire. UDcast is playing a role, but I cannot disclose exactly what we are doing. I can say that one of our customers, AT&T, has launched a trial with UDcast equipment.

We also have a number of the industrial partners like Roundbox that develop Electronic Service Guides. They are using our systems and we cooperate with them a lot. They also work closely with QUALCOMM. Motorola is one of our strategic partners. They made a strategic minority investment in UDcast in 2005.

Also, in April this year, we joined the Mobile DTV Alliance, an organization that promotes mobile TV and in particular is focused on the DVB standard. We also opened a U.S. office in November of last year in Pittsburgh. That was a significant investment for us, but we have a lot of customers ready, so it’s necessary to support them.

MTVU: What are UDcast’s plans going forward?

FG: We’re looking to invest even more in North and South America and to increase our presence in Europe and the Middle East. Also, we are looking into future technologies, especially those related to IP. All the future TV deployments will be based on IP, which enables you to deliver content in a very efficient way, through all types of media. And it happens that at UDcast, our company phrase is “Full IP over Broadcast Media.” We’ve been doing this for seven years already, so I think we are very confident that our skills will find many applications in future TV deployments.

For more information, visit www.udcast.com.