T2-Lite breathes new life into mobile TV

The road to mobile broadcast TV has been a messy one. In the early 2000s pioneering services in Korea and Japan using technologies like DMB and ISDB-T OneSeg to deliver broadcast video to handsets sparked a lot of excitement over the possibilities of mobile TV - especially with 3G not yet delivering the capacity needed to make streaming video a smooth experience.

But while DMB and ISDB-T have done well in their home markets, rival technologies like DVB-H and Qualcomm's MediaFLO have not. Qualcomm shut down its $1 billion MediaFLO network in October 2010 after three years of operation, hampered by limited device availability and coverage. DVB-H - the mobile version of the DVB digital television standard championed in the mobile sector by heavy-hitter Nokia - didn't fare much better, with trials in Asia, Africa and Europe mostly leading nowhere. DVB's follow-up technology - DVB-NGH (next-generation handheld) - never even made it out of the gate.

In late July, however, DVB released a new standard that it hopes can breathe new life into mobile broadcast TV: DVB T2-Lite. 

The T2-Lite profile, included in Version 1.3.1 of the DVB-T2 specification document (T2 being the latest generation of the DVB spec introduced two years ago), is designed to allow for "simpler receiver implementations for very low capacity applications such as mobile broadcasting", according to a DVB statement.

"T2-Lite is based on a limited sub-set of the modes of the T2-base profile, and by avoiding modes that require the most complexity and memory, allows much more efficient receiver designs to be used," the statement says.

What that essentially means is that T2-Lite receivers can be built using smaller, more efficient chipsets that can be embedded into smartphones and tablets, while T2-Lite signals transmit in bursts rather than continuously, thus saving a lot of battery power.

More to the point, says Peter White, CEO, founder and principal analyst of Rethink Research, T2-Lite - unlike MediaFLO and DVB-H, which required separate networks to be built using new spectrum - works within existing broadcast spectrum and networks, and only requires minor changes to existing DVB-T2 modems.

"If this had been announced instead of DVB-H, it would have been an obvious hit, and we'd all have TV on phones by now," White said in a research note.

Whether it will revive the fortunes of mobile broadcast TV, however, remains a long-term prospect at best. Getting OEMs to integrate T2-Lite chipsets will hinge on adoption of DVB-T2, which has only been commercially adopted in a handful of markets - none of them in Asia, although Singapore has officially adopted DVB-T2 for its digital TV roadmap, and Malaysia and Thailand have been carrying out tests.

White also points out that tablets already enable users to watch TV via Wi-Fi, with LTE on the horizon. "Wi-Fi signals may not be the best way to get TV to a tablet, but if everyone in the Wi-Fi community works hard enough, it may become the de facto method," he says.

If nothing else, tablets themselves are already changing the prospects of mobile TV from a consumer-experience standpoint, says Dr Windsor Holden, principal analyst at Juniper Research.

"While watching mobile TV on a smartphone is an acceptable experience, it is - quite honestly - difficult to immerse yourself in the experience with a three-inch screen. And if you're watching a sporting event, following the ball can be a challenge," Holden wrote in a blog post. "But with tablets, it's - well, a different ball game."