Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Mobile TV firms urge Ofcom to speed up licence auction

By Kate Bulkley

The Guardian

Thursday September 22, 2005

Live television broadcast to mobile phones switched on today in central Oxford but the companies behind the trial say Ofcom must move faster to license the frequencies necessary to roll out mobile TV on a commercial basis.

If it does not, they warn, the UK faces losing the lead it has traditionally had in mobile phone technology.

Transmission company Arqiva (formally NTL Broadcast) and mobile operator O2 jointly petitioned Ofcom over the summer to license Channel 46 in the UHF band, which they believe is optimal for broadcast TV on mobile devices.

Unless Ofcom is proactive about its licensing the necessary spectrum may not be auctioned off until 2008. At least one European country is likely to launch broadcast TV on mobiles next year.

"I would like Ofcom to move earlier on licensing spectrum," said Dave Williams, the chief technology officer for O2. "The technology is here and it works."

An Ofcom spokesman said: "It is all about digital switchover. The spectrum that they need is currently used by analogue TV so we cannot free up that UHF spectrum until digital switchover.

"The practical difficulty that we have is that the UK has the most crowded spectrum in the world, so to bring [the broadcasting technology] DVBH and other services to market we need digital switchover."

In Oxford, O2 and Arqiva are using DVB-H - which is the mobile or hand-held version of traditional broadcast transmissions - to deliver 16 channels of broadcast TV including all the terrestrial channels plus Sky News, CNN, Discovery and BBC News 24 and MTV.

Mobile TV guinea pigs are still being recruited but up to 400 people in Oxford will be given specially equipped Nokia 7710 phones by September 29. The trial will continue for the next six months.

DVB-H is not the only technology capable of delivering broadcast TV to mobiles, but Mr Williams said it provided a much less expensive and less complex solution than the DAB-based technology currently being tested by BT and Virgin in London.

"DVB-H could be the GSM of TV technology," he said. "It's getting a certain amount of focus but of course its success depends on manufacturers, content providers and of course regulators."

Covering costs

The Oxford project is free to triallists but O2 is keen to gather information on what people will pay for TV on the move. Based on similar trials being conducted in Europe and Asia, Mr Williams believes the service could cost consumers between 5-10 euros a month.

Mark Selby, the vice president of multimedia at Nokia, said getting broadcast TV to mobile phones was interesting, but the real issue was about marrying the interactivity of mobiles with broadcast TV.

"Mobile broadcast TV allows users to interact with TV. So for example when an advertisement for a car comes on the TV channel, you could push a button to download more specific information about that car.

"At a time when broadcast TV is losing viewers mobile broadcast TV is an opportunity to recapture and re-engage audiences," he said.


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