Wanna know how to win the mobile TV war?
Open standards and competition, Nokia says
But Crown Castle in the US, the only member of the Mobile DTV alliance that is in any danger of having a genuine DVB-H network, is miles behind its planned roll-out. It had hoped to name its mobile operator partners by the end of 2005 and here in the second half of 2006 it has still to name one.
What is stopping Cingular from throwing in its lot with Crown Castle's Modeo, which it turns out has only built out the trial site in Pittsburgh and one new market in New York, and has yet to unleash its DVB-H service on the 30 markets that it promised this year?
The answer lies, we suspect, in the spectrum that Modeo has adopted, the 1.67 GHz slice that is perfectly feasible for putting up a DVB-H service, but which has some distinct disadvantages. It propagates not half as well as the 716 MHz to 722 MHz UHF spectrum that Qualcomm owns, and there are almost no DVB-H trials around the world in that spectrum.
The bulk markets are eventually all expected to be in existing VHF, UHF and L-Band plus the big digital dividend that will be released when Europe and the US analog TV vacates the bulk of the UHF spectrum. For the US this is in April 2009, for the bulk of Europe there are varying dates between now and 2012.
But recent self proclaimed DVB-H market entry Aloha and Partners, working with SES Americom, which have between them formed Hi-Wire, in neighboring 700 MHz range to MediaFLO, are probably much more to the liking of both the Mobile DTV Alliance, and to operators like Cingular, who don't want to be hobbled by a network that builds out more slowly and has bigger network costs associated with it.
A conspiracy theory was doing the rounds at this German event that Cingular is holding all the DVB-H players to ransom, trying to force Modeo to vacate its own 1.67 MHz spectrum and throw its lot in with HiWire. This is fuelled not least by the fact that no one present truly believes that HiWire is in the business of building out its own network.
Aloha was formed to be a spectrum trader and has never before considered entering the operator business. Aloha Partners was set up, with the backing of several investors with backgrounds in telecoms infrastructure, to acquire the initial tranche of 700MHz spectrum auctioned in the US. It gained 12MHz of spectrum, double the amount bought by the other auction winner, Qualcomm.
Using DVB-H this could be used to offer something like 25 to 32 TV channels with plenty of room left over for audio and clipcasting, and would make a formidable opponent for Qualcomm in its own backyard. And such a transaction could probably be funded by the reduction in cost of a network build in the US, perhaps a gain several hundred million dollars, using this spectrum rather than 1.67 GHz.
One thing this would allow, and we have said this in the past, is that Verizon could work with both Qualcomm and with DVB-H, on the same handsets, with slightly different software. That way Verizon could back ALL the horses in the race at once, and be sure to be riding a winner.
Such a position would be sure to hurry Cingular into signing up its own "exclusive" deal with DVB-H providers, to ensure that such a Verizon eventuality did not occur.
MediFLO, being a system from a single vendor Qualcomm, means that it has more leverage in getting a deal cut with customers like Verizon. It can fund the deal out of next generation CDMA price reductions for Verizon, but this kind of loyalty can only last as long as any given network upgrade lasts. Similarly, Nokia or others might offer the same to WCDMA networks.
So this is the kind of politics that the Mobile DTV Alliance is up against and its messianic mission of "open standards" and a competitive eco-system may well work on in the long run, but it carries little weight if it cannot affect "this quarters numbers" when applied to a major US cellco.