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Qualcomm turns a pretty penny on FLO spectrum

AT&T throws $2bn at unwanted spectrum

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AT&T has paid almost $2bn for the frequencies Qualcomm has been using to broadcast its MediaFLO service.

Qualcomm paid $683m for the two 6MHz bands, which used to carry analogue TV transmissions and cover 300 million people. For the last few years Qualcomm has been broadcasting TV-to-mobiles under the MediaFLO brand. Unfortunately no-one has been watching so now AT&T has offered $1.93bn with a view to supplementing its LTE download speeds.

MediaFLO is Qualcomm's proprietary technology for broadcasting TV to mobile phones, but despite being technically as capable as the competition it failed because no-one wants to watch broadcast TV on their phones - streamed TV on the move is a big hit, but broadcast TV is unwanted and unloved.

MediaFLO was one of the most successful, but only because Qualcomm poured money into it in the unswerving belief that if they built it we would watch. While other technology companies tried to sell their TV broadcasting to existing network operators, Qualcomm bought the spectrum, built the network, and then let mobile network operators (including AT&T) sell the service under their own brands. But even then no-one wanted to watch, and the service will finally shut down in March.

That investment is certainly more than the billion dollars or so that Qualcomm is making on the radio spectrum, so the project can't be considered profitable though the development of MediaFLO did lead to bundles of patents that might yet prove valuable.

DailyWireless has a list of some of the other technologies that tried to provide broadcast TV, though not exhaustive it does demonstrate how many companies believed they could compete with a YouTube stream. But it could have been worse - Europe nearly reserved an entire frequency for the service despite no-one wanting it.

AT&T will be using the spectrum - a pair of channels starting at 722MHz - to supplement its LTE download speeds, using a bonding protocol that's currently under development (scheduled for the next 3GPP version, Release 10). Ideal for delivering those YouTube streams that so effectively undermined the market for MediaFLO and its competitors. ®

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