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Watch Dhoni live, on Tata TV
Surajeet Das Gupta in New Delhi | February 25, 2006
If all regulatory approvals come through, by the end of the year, your mobile could substitute for TV.
As long as you've got someone to drive your car, don't worry if you've got to leave your house for an appointment just as Mahendra Singh Dhoni's about to massacre the Pakistan attack, or when Debojit Saha wins the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005.
For, if all goes well, by the end of the year, you could be watching your favourite television show live on your mobile phone. Live, as in live, not the delayed streaming-kind of television clips that you get to see today on your mobile.
While the actual costs are obviously to be determined, they may not be too high. Setting up a network in a city like Mumbai, for instance, could be around $2-7 million, depending on what technology is finally used, and while the handsets cost around $500 right now, industry experts think the price could drop to around Rs 10,000 depending upon the volumes demanded, after five to six months.
The monthly cost of this service will be between $10 and $15 a month in the US when mobile phone firm Verizon offers the service in October, so you could expect it to cost around Rs 200-300 per month in India, which is around the rate paid to the cable company today by most households.
CDMA-mobile phone operators, the Tatas and Reliance, already experimenting with two competing new technologies for providing TV on the move. Both technologies were on display this week at the Globalcomm at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi.
The Koreans who are far ahead in the race are showcasing Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB), which is already up and running commercially in South Korea with six operators.
Their rival in the space is the US-based Qualcomm which has developed MediaFLO, a technology platform which can make terrestrial TV broadcasting possible on both CDMA as well as GSM networks.
US-based Verizon will be the first company which will commercially launch the TV service in the US this October. I watched demos of various channels with great scepticism, but the quality of the broadcast was truly amazing.
So what do you get with all this money? Qualcomm claims that you can squeeze in about 20 broadcast channels, 10 audio channels as well as 800 minutes of video, which you want to download on to your phone (the amount you can download will depend upon the size of your phone's memory).
Korea's DMB is being used to offer around five channels in Korea at the moment, but officials of companies working on the DMB standard say they could offer 10-12 channels in India, over 60 audio channels and will be able to offer video-on-demand services as well.
A 30-minute clip can be downloaded in two minutes. You can also choose, on the phone, which headline news you want to see and retrieve this.
Operators can offer you an electronic programming guide too, and you can, for instance, get Dhoni's one-day record on the screen while watching him pulversise some poor bowler.
Convergence In Your Palm
Qualcomm claims it takes only 1.5 second for a customer to switch from one channel to another (currently, it's around 1.8 seconds, but they're working on shaving this off a bit) while DMB vendors say their system takes between 2 and 4 seconds.
The battery life of phones based on the Korean technology is between 2.5 and 3 hours compared to four hours of Qualcomm. The US company also claims that the investment required by the operator to put in the service (which includes putting in transmitters to pick up terrestrial signals) for a city like Mumbai should not be more than $ 2-5 million.
In comparison, DMB technology requires an investment between $5-7 million for the same city. Of course, Qualcomm is proprietary technology while DMB is an open standards system and so a lot more vendors could compete to provide hardware solutions based on it, and so equipment prices on this standard could fall faster.
There are some regulatory issues that need to be dealt with even after all the technical ones have been cleared. At present, only Prasar Bharati is allowed to do terrestrial broadcasting in the country. So, if telcos like the Tatas and Reliance want to offer live TV, they'll have to get around this by getting a broadcasting license.