Making the case for LTE Broadcast and Dyle mobile TV

editor's corner

U.S. consumers haven't exactly leaped en masse at the chance to watch live broadcast TV on their handsets, so I have to wonder how aggressively operators will jump onto the next generation of mobile TV technologies.

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) sheepishly shuttered its FLO TV service in early 2011, but that was far from the end of mobile TV development efforts. Now we have two new mobile TV technologies arriving on the scene: eMBMS and ATSC-Mobile digital TV.

LTE Broadcast using evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (eMBMS) is a multicast technology that industry players say will be ready for commercialization in 2013. Many LTE operators worldwide are considering whether to add eMBMS capability to their LTE infrastructure in order to efficiently multicast popular video content rather than deliver it via unicast HTTP, which clutters up valuable bandwidth.

According to a Qualcomm white paper, LTE Broadcast would enable pre-scheduled broadcast delivery in order to pre-cache the content on mobile devices prior to end user consumption. Content could be offered on the fly as well, meaning it would be scheduled for broadcast delivery while mobile devices are still downloading the content via HTTP.

"Some content may become suddenly popular, for example as measured by a high number of download requests. Examples of such content include breaking news event video clips, instant replay sports highlight clips, viral YouTube videos, independent films, music, video game software, software applications and patches, etc.," said Qualcomm.

The vendor contends that implemented properly, on-the-fly content being played could be switched seamlessly and efficiently between HTTP and broadcast reception.

This all sounds grand, but the fact is operators must implement eMBMS infrastructure and handset vendors must create compatible handsets, which are both costly and time-consuming endeavors. But if eMBMS can be used to lessen the impact of OTT content on the mobile network, it may enable sufficient cost savings to justify deployment.

Meanwhile, ATSC-Mobile DTV technology is being leveraged by Dyle over television broadcasters' frequencies. The Dyle service is operated by the Mobile Content Venture (MCV), a joint-venture of 12 major broadcast groups, including Fox, Ion Television and NBC. MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) is the first mobile operator to offer a Dyle-compatible handset, in this case the Samsung Galaxy S Lightray 4G LTE handset.

Last month, the MCV released a study conducted by Research Now, which polled 510 U.S. consumers ages 18-54 to ascertain out how live mobile television would fit into their lives. According to the study, 85 percent of consumers questioned said they had watched live TV in the past month and 68 percent of respondents would watch more TV if they were able to watch it live on mobile devices while on-the-go. Further, more than 50 percent of consumers would consider watching mobile TV on smartphones and tablets and 61 percent said they would be consumers would be somewhat or very likely to switch cellphone providers to get mobile TV.

That all sounds reasonable, but here's the rub: How much will people pay for mobile TV? Dyle's application is available at no additional cost through the end of 2012, which is all of four-and-a-half months from now. What then?

California-based MobiTV, which derives 97 percent of its revenue from the four national mobile networks and expects to be profitable by year's end, has proven that standalone mobile TV offerings can generate revenues. It's worth noting, however, that the company, which suspended plans for an initial public offering last month, is not focused solely on mobile TV. It offers a converged multi-screen platform and recently began licensing its network DVR (nDVR) solution as a standalone solution for pay TV and wireless operators.

Andf while MobiTV's platform enables live TV, video on demand, as well as saving content for later for offline viewing, Dyle is marketing live broadcast TV. That could be a serious drawback for Dyle because consumers are increasingly used to viewing on-demand video from services such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu Plus.

In fact, younger consumers are 94 percent more likely to use Internet-based video services than older consumers, according to a study from research consultancy iGR. "These younger consumers are of concern to the mobile data network providers, already struggling with high traffic," said the firm, noting that half of all 3G/4G mobile data traffic is already due to video.

Those younger consumers are the ones mobile operators have in mind when they consider the business case for eMBMS. I also suspect those consumers are the ones who, given the choice, will turn off Dyle and switch on YouTube.--Tammy