Analysts Bet on DVB-H Mobile Standard; Would You?

by: Evelyn Rubin

Mobile TV took center stage at the 3GSM trade show in Barcelona last week, with analysts coming out in favor of the DVB-H standard. Strategy Analytics estimates that DVB-H will grow from 19% of TV phones sold in 2006 to 40% in 2010. [Note that in the same report they project that in six years TV phone sales will outpace fixed TV. Somewhat bullish...] By 2010, Informa Telecoms & Media believe that there will be 74 million DVB-H users, more than 50% of all mobile TV handset sales.

As with any new mobile technology, the first phase of deployment has centered the issue of competing standards. Engadget provides a detailed analysis of the key mobile TV technologies including their technological strengths and shortcomings.

Red Herring details the standards war between DMB (deployed in South Korea with additional trials in Norway, Japan and the UK), DVB-H (see detail below), and Media-Flo (Qualcomm standard that is reportedly being used by Verizon Wireless and KDDI in Japan). TDtv, developed by IPWireless, uses existing 3G networks to "multicast" TV signals to subscribers. Orange UK announced last week it will launch a mobile TV trial based on IPWireless technology over its 3G network.

An extension of the DVB-T (Terrestrial) standard now being used for digital service to TV sets in Europe, DVB-H has received support from some of the top tier mobile players including Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Siemens. In January, Intel, Nokia and Texas Instruments announced that they were creating a consortium, called the Mobile DTV Alliance to promote DVB-H in North America. Philips Electronics is also a key player in the DVB-H market having rolled out a front-end DVB-H solution in December. Freescale and Intel Capital are investors in Dibcom, a private company that announced a major order for DVB-H chips from an unnamed customer in January.

Crown Castle subsidiary Modeo has begun to roll out an overlay network for DVB-H transmission in North America; according to a recent press release from the company they anticipate that by 2007, most of the major markets in North America will have DVB-H infrastructure built out for deployment.

Beyond the standards war, there are multiple debates surrounding mobile TV, foremost of which is the business model question. MTV's chief digital officer Jason Hirschhorn said at 3GSM on Wednesday that "I would love to reach out to any of the wireless providers to come up with any significant trial packages around advertising and set a standard...Ultimately, I think advertising against mobile content will make this a mass-market business. Free is always good for the consumer."

Mike Masnick from TechDirt Wireless agrees:

It's good that some people are starting to realize this, but it's not a question of whether or not free is the right model, but a recognition that it's likely to be the only model. It seems like everyone investing big money in the mobile broadcast TV market are ignoring the growing competition from "place shifting" efforts from companies like Sling and Orb.

In both cases, these companies will let users access their home TV (including their DVR) from mobile devices -- and both only charge for the hardware, rather than an ongoing service fee. So, if your choices are spending $200 on a box that lets you access your home TV with its 200 channels and full access to your TiVo from anywhere in the world using any computer or mobile device... against paying $10/month for a limited selection of choppy live programming just on your phone, it seems like the place shifting companies have an advantage.

If you're interested in following the DVB-H progress, companies to watch are:

Component/Chip level: Philips Electronics, Texas Instruments, Nvidia, ATI, ST Micro, Qualcomm (for the opponent's perspective), and the memory players including Sandisk and Lexar.

Handset level: Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Motorola

Infrastructure play: Crown Castle (via subsidiary Modeo)

Content Delivery: Red Herring recommends looking beyond operators to Disney, Time Warner, and Sony Entertainment to lead content delivery for mobile.

Given the almost universal support of the DVB-H standard by analysts and press, we'd be glad to publish any dissenting opinions.