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TV on your mobile soon!

Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi | June 30, 2005

Telecom network companies have for long declared that their networks could provide television content on mobile phones.

Vincent J Mazzola, then president and CEO of Lucent Technologies Hindustan, told Business Standard in an interview in May last year that Lucent's evolution data only technology could deliver television content on mobile phones because of its speed.

Mazzola was right. Last fortnight, Finnish handset maker Nokia tied up with Singapore media giant Mediacorp and Mobile One to demonstrate that TV programmes could be delivered on mobile phones in Singapore, the first country in the Asia-Pacific region where the service is being offered on a trial basis.

But mobile TV (also called digital video broadcasting -- hand-held or DVB-H) may be launched in India too.

Subhash Chandra's Zee group hopes to start trial runs of mobile TV before the end of this year.

Says Jawahar Goel, vice chairman of the Zee group: "We are evaluating the potential of mobile TV and broadcasters have already approached the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to include mobile TV services as part of the terrestrial broadcasting policy which it is working on."

Some broadcasters are sceptical that mobile TV will take off. Notes Kunal Das Gupta, CEO of Sony Entertainment Television in India: "The terrestrial spectrum needed for this service is monopolised by Doordarshan. So there is no way anyone can start DVB-H. The only way is if Doordarshan ties up with mobile operators to offer its channels."

Das Gupta also says that mobile TV is commercially available only in Korea (where it is known as digital multimedia broadcasting) and that it is still to be proven whether viewers want to see TV while they're on the move.

Adds a senior executive at a leading global systems for mobile company: "It's all gimmickry. The cost of the special phones required will be double that of a TV set. So it will have only a niche audience in India."

So what is DVB-H technology all about? At the moment mobile phone operators can only stream small TV clips on mobile phones for a limited duration of time. But mobile TV offers mobile phone service subscribers the opportunity of viewing television channels live on their mobile phone screens.

The technology is being pushed by companies like Nokia and up to 55 channels can be viewed on specially designed phones.

The new phones (like the Nokia 7710) are on trial and have been built to reduce battery time usage by 90 per cent. They offer broadcast quality pictures to mobile phone users. The phones will have two tuners -- one for voice and data and the other to pick up TV signals.

Nokia has tied up with broadcasters and mobile companies across the globe to offer trial runs of the new service.

Says Tero Naumi, senior product manager, product marketing, rich media business programme, at Nokia who was in Singapore to demonstrate the technology: "We expect commercial services to start by the end of this year or next year. Mobile TV will provide additional revenue streams to both mobile phone operators and broadcasters. During the trail run we are gauging what customers are willing to pay for the service."

Mobile phone subscribers tend to like mobile TV. Research in Europe has shown that nearly 50 per cent of potential users are willing to change their service operator to get mobile TV if their current operator does not offer it. Broadcasters could tap new advertisers, increase viewership and share revenue with mobile operators. Mobile operators, in turn, get a new source of revenue.

In India, it's not clear whether telecom companies will merely offer the service and share the revenue from it with broadcasters and whether broadcasters will tie up with them for the purpose.

The Bharti group is clear that it will enter this business only as a revenue sharing partner with a broadcaster.

Says Bharti Tele-Ventures director, marketing, Hemant Sachdeva: "We are not in the content business. So if offer content it will be with a broadcaster in a revenue share model."

Zee's Goel says that Zee might lease telecom company infrastructure (the large towers will be needed for transmission), it might offer the service on its own directly to mobile phone subscribers, instead of opting for revenue sharing.

Still, broadcasters that want to invest in mobile TV must still wait for clear government guidelines on key issues like the frequency that will be allocated for mobile TV. Also, will Doordarshan give up its monopoly of the spectrum required for such services? So don't expect to switch on your mobile and watch that cliff-hanging cricket match for some time yet.



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