MediaFLO vs. DVB-H: The battle for market position

The idea of transmitting high-quality video services to mobile phones using a separate network has finally caught on with at least one U.S. operator, Verizon, opening the door to a host of other competitive announcements. Verizon has committed to using QUALCOMM's upcoming MediaFLO network for mobile-video services, while competing tower company Crown Castle, offering rival DVB-H technology, is feeling mounting pressure to unveil a carrier partner for its network and move nationwide (it hasn't announced any nationwide plans yet).

As QUALCOMM and Crown look to woo operators, look for a bunch of technology bashing from both reminiscent of the GSM versus CDMA debate that was prevalent in the 1990s and still flares up from time to time. Who will be more adept at attracting content partners? Who will be more cost effective? I suspect we'll see old alliances involved as GSM operators likely adopt DVB-H like their European counterparts and QUALCOMM signs on CDMA operators. Look for 2007, however, to be the proving ground for the concept of leasing another network to provide television services. Operators and their content partners will spend 2006 deciding what content customers want and how it should be packaged.

Elsewhere, a bevy of potential business models for high-quality mobile TV will emerge with interest in MediaFLO and DVB-H coming from broadcasters, media groups and carriers themselves looking to construct a broadcast network. QUALCOMM and KDDI are setting up a mobile TV joint venture in Japan using MediaFLO. In Western Europe, operators are ramping up their TV offerings in a bid to provide true broadcast-quality TV to handsets by 2008, with DVB-H emerging as the leading video-broadcasting standard throughout the region. Operators including Vodafone, Orange, O2, KPN and TIM are pushing ahead with DVB-H pilots on the back of the success of their current 3G TV offerings.