Dish considers expanding 700 MHz mobile TV service to 40 markets

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Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) said it is currently broadcasting eight channels of mobile video in 13 locations across the country, and is considering expanding that effort to a total of 40 markets in the United States. The offering is not commercially available, but represents Dish's continued experimentation with the 700 MHz E Block licenses the company won during the FCC's 2008 spectrum auction.

According to filings with the FCC, Dish's Manifest Wireless subsidiary is testing an Advanced Television Systems Committee--Mobile/Handheld (ATSC M/H) mobile video broadcast network in locations including Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Pittsburgh. In some cases, the network covers the entire city. Dish is using Pericle Communications Company to test the performance of the network.

Dish said it "has been actively exploring sites and site leases beyond the current test sites, and has a tentative agreement for access to additional broadcast sites in roughly 40 markets across the U.S." The company said the results of its current tests will "inform decisions going forward as to when additional sites will be activated for mobile broadcast video services."

Interestingly, Dish said that recent actions on the mobile TV front have given it a renewed sense of hope for the space. Two startups, Dyle and MyDTV, are now competing against each other to line up customers for their respective mobile TV services. Dyle and MyDTV are working to build out networks that are dedicated to broadcasting video content to mobile devices, including laptops, smartphones and tablets; Dyle (a collection of local TV broadcasters) recently announced that, by the end of the year, it will reach 116 stations in 39 markets. Dyle's rival, MyDTV, is trialing systems in Seattle and Minneapolis and plans to expand to Raleigh, N.C.

"Manifest is encouraged by recent deployments and promotions of mobile video by various broadcasters, as Manifest sees these developments as complementary in fostering consumer adoption and broader integration interest from device manufacturers," Dish wrote. "Given the increasing adoption of tablets and larger screen sizes on smartphones, Manifest believes that a high-power mobile video offering will be a compelling new consumer service, and an enhancement to the overall trend of greater mobility and flexibility in consuming video."

The comments are noteworthy considering the history of the mobile TV market. Almost a decade ago, Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) MediaFlo, Crown Castle's Modeo and Aloha Partners' Hiwire all had hoped to get mobile phone users to sign up to receive TV services via a dedicated broadcast network, but all of those efforts eventually flopped.

Dish's EchoStar, bidding under the name of Frontier Wireless, paid around $700 million for 168 licenses across the country in the E Block during the FCC's 700 MHz spectrum auction. Since then, Dish has been testing ATSC M/H as well as Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld (DVB-H), Digital Video Broadcasting - Satellite Services to Handhelds (DVB-SH), and China Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting (CMMB).

In a recent filing with the FCC, Dish said it won't be able to meet the FCC's network buildout requirements for the E Block, which call for licensees to "provide signal coverage and offer service over at least 35 percent of the geographic area of each of their license authorizations no later than June 13, 2013." Dish is requesting the FCC either abandon its buildout requirements completely or delay them until after the interference concerns are addressed or 700 MHz E block devices become available.

Dish's 700 MHz licenses are just a small part of the company's overall spectrum trove. However, Dish recently dropped its bid to acquire both Sprint (NYSE:S) and Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), leaving its plans in wireless up in the air.

For more:
- see these two Dish FCC filings (PDF)

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