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Phones to overtake televisions 'within a decade'

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Phones will overtake televisions within a decade, says Philips

Interest in television services over cellular or broadband wireless networks is intensifying as operators seek a new, high margin application. If the boom materializes, it will also be a major boost for chipmakers. We have already seen Qualcomm unveiling its FLO OFDM-based network technology for television, and now Philips Semiconductors is predicting that, within a decade, the majority of its television chips will go into cellphones, not conventional television sets.

Leon Husson, executive vice president for the consumer businesses at Philips Semiconductors, forecasts that 50 per cent of cellphones will come with television capability by 2013, and volumes by this time will be about 600m handsets per year in total, with 300m featuring TV. Philips is currently trialling handset TV services in Berlin with Nokia, Vodafone and Universal Studios Network Germany.

There are still important hurdles to overcome for the chipmakers. One is developing "a global digital TV feature that enables a user to tune into a television anywhere in the world". Another challenge for chipmakers will be creating intelligent digital signal processors (DSPs) that will enable consumers easily to transfer content from in-home televisions and set-top boxes to phones, not only decoding audio and video streams but also encoding in the right format for the home devices. These DSPs will be able to change frame rates or resolution automatically to match the end product's capability.

Meanwhile, as the R&D departments work on the next generation handsets, operators are already launching first stage services. Cingular is now offering MobiTV, a 22-channel service created by Idetic, to its customers, featuring content from MSNBC, ABC News Now, Fox Sports, C-Span and others. AT&T Wireless had originally signed for MobiTV, and it was adopted by the whole company after the merger with Cingular. MobiTV will cost $9.99 a month. MobiTV is also available from Sprint PCS as part of the Vision service.

Before full television programming, many operators are experimenting with short episodes and clips. Most recently, Verizon Wireless has joined with a production company, Twentieth Television, to deliver direct-to-mobile shows as part of its new VCast service. The deal will also be extended to Verizon Wireless co-owner Vodafone’s Live! platform outside the US. The TV company plans to produce 52 one-minute ‘mobisodes’ of two original soap operas.

VCast will also feature a streaming video service based on Microsoft’s Windows Media, in a deal announced this week. Verizon is a valuable partner for the software giant, which has had problems establishing itself in the mobile world – Windows Media’s rival RealPlayer, is far stronger in this world. Microsoft now partners with PacketVideo, which provides multimedia software for many cellcos. Vcast will go live in February and is expected to be the most advanced phone video service available in the US.

Copyright © 2004, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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