Qualcomm gives sports a new mobile option

Qualcomm’s MediaFLO system, the next-generation mobile video service that will deliver live TV signals to cellphones via terrestrial transmission, will launch in the fourth quarter of 2006, providing sports networks a new way to reach viewers on the go.

Omar Javid, Qualcomm senior director, laid out his company’s vision at the Grass Valley 2006 Media Summit in Palm Springs, CA. The company expects to deliver 20 video channels, 10 audio streams, and up to 800 minutes of cached (or clipcasting) comment, ensuring that cellphone owners with idle time will never go wanting for sports, news or entertainment content.

The system, based on OFDM technology, will use spectrum previously held by channel 55 (Qualcomm bought the spectrum at auction three years ago) to deliver over-the-air signals directly to cellphones and other mobile devices with MediaFLO receiver chips.

Current cellphone video services can become a victim of
their own success as users in a given area battle for network bandwidth
to establish a connection and then download clips and content. But the use of over-the-air spectrum means the service will solve those problems.

Javid says the service will also address other cellular weaknesses like battery consumption and channel changing. Expect the service to deliver four hours of video on a standard single cell charge and channel changing in less than 1.5 second.

“Power consumption, battery life, and processor speed are all critical to MediaFLO’s success,” says Javid.

Another advantage Javid points to over competing services is its ability to support both wide and local area networks. “ESPN, for example, can’t aggregate content until they have a way to support contractual blackout obligations and MediaFLO has that unique advantage,” he says.

The service will also give sports networks the ability to push content out to the phone so that an idle cellphone screen can display sports scores, weather and other information (it can also embed links to bring users directly to a channel with more information). “It’s similar to the widgets found on Apple computers,” says Javid.

Qualcomm will have company in the over-the-air mobile market by year end. Modeo, the newly rebranded Crown Castle service, uses Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld or DVB-H to reach viewers. The European digital television standard delivers video at up to 30 frames per second over broadcast spectrum to cellphones and any other devices that have the receiver chips.

While Qualcomm focuses on phones Michael Schueppert, Modeo president, says it’s important to remember that mobile TV is not just about cellphones. “Laptops, personal media players and other video systems are all important,” he says.

Modeo, which has a national footprint for the service after buying spectrum at auction for $11 million, expects to roll it out to the top 30 TV markets beginning in 2006 and ending in 2007. The company has been testing the system in Pittsburgh since 2005 and it’s also been hard at work setting up the DVB-H transmitters in its first major market: New York City.

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