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Open standards and competition, Nokia says

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Mobile TV watchers know that although Korea was first to market with mobile TV, that it has almost stalled over the lack of consensus over a business model, with T-DMB a free to air advertising driven service, mandated as such by the Korean regulator, and the earlier and far more successful S-DMB able to offer a paid subscription service.

But here in Europe, with people already watching the world soccer cup on Mobile DVB-H TV, will this same dichotomy of business models harm the eco-system?

"We see the advertising side more as program sponsorship," TI"s Solomon said. "That's what we are hearing anyway."

"The German system is based on a shared broadcast operator and a shared network," says Nokia's Mannisto. "And that allows all of the channel providers to offer their own business models," and he repeats his mantra about open standards and a competitive eco-system (that was about the tenth time).

"We know that the rest of Europe is watching very carefully how the German experiment works (It's 5:5:2 formation) and we believe that many European countries will adopt this same approach."

But the truth is that Qualcomm is beset by the same difficulties and has come up with the same solution, it will build its MediaFLO network in the US and let its operators decide on their business model, so here DVB-H is offering no real advantage.

The discussion then drifted to how mobile TV devices would be used and where and what form of content would be best suited to it. The entire discussion is really down to whether or not shortened specialised "mobisode" content is the way forward, or will people watch longer programming. Nokia research shows that in DVB-H trials people watch both including longer form content, but privately all of the speakers agreed that the way forward is by bringing Digital Video Recorders to the phone, and Nokia showed off its N92 Multimedia device with DVB-H which has 2GB of flash swappable memory.

Where are the hard disks? "The N91 had a 5 GB hard drive, but that's too big to fit into this device. But we have many DVB-H devices coming out soon, and some are sure to have hard drives in them," confesses Mannisto, confirming the idea that the phone will become a place to "carry" video content as much as to view it, an opinion first voiced by TI at 3GSM this year.

By placing enough storage and a DVR application into the mix, it means that mobile TV users will be able to watch an episode of 24, throughout the day, snacking on 10 minutes at a time, which begs the question about business model.

The broadcasting industry and its advertising partners have already been sent into retreat through the invention of the DVR in set tops and big TV, and no advertiser will make a huge commitment to mobile TV if most of the devices can fast forward through their adverts. So program sponsorship and paid subscriptions does seem most likely.

One of the notions that has dogged the World Cup DVB-H coverage has been the quality of the picture, and we can testify that the semi-final between Germany and Italy, although watchable on the N92, was far from perfect and far from the quality that we know DVB-H can achieve.

"That's a question for T-Systems and how it has implemented DVBH here," said Solomon.

But we found that this demonstration system set up in haste for the World Cup had just a single transmitter per city and some suggested that it was using 16QAM rather than QPSK as a modulation. It was still a street better than unicast TV on a mobile, but there are some miles to go before mobile TV works to the same standards everywhere.

TI also took the opportunity to show a T-Mobile branded mini DLP projector, battery driven that projected a DVB-H image the size of a TV on a nearby wall, with really quite stunning visual quality.

"We hope that within one generation we will be able to put this inside a phone, and make it one integrated device," said TI, and of the 50 or so media and analyst members present, more time was spent poring over the single projector than the 10 or so N92s that were on hand.

"Remember," summarised Nokia's Mannisto, "this technology delivers 6GB in an hour to what could be 2bn people. With open standards and a competitive eco-system there are hundreds of ways that data delivery resource can be harnessed.”

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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