Analyst: Mobile DTV standards problem may never be solved

In-Stat has published a report that forecasts the future of the worldwide mobile TV market, anticipating a total of $12 billion dollars in revenue in 2012, but it appears the fragmented nature of standards is here to stay.

Much like PAL and NTSC on analog sets, different nations adhere to different mobile broadcast standards. DVB-H, ATSC-M/H, CMMB, ISDB-T, DVB-SH, T-DMB, and MediaFLO are just some of the most common standards currently in place or in development. And among these, there is even further disunion between free, pay-as-you-go, and subscription-based services.

The study shows that even though South Korea was the first country where mobile TV found a large audience, it is actually the European Union's chosen standard DVB-H that has the most widely used in terms of operator coverage.

This, however, does not mean that DVB-H is the most popular. In February, IDG News reported Japan's OneSeg had reached over 20 million users in less than two years, and some userbase estimates of South Korea's long running T-DMB standard exceed 10 million.

Michelle Abraham, principal analyst at In-Stat heading the study noted that the US' own MobiTV service had just announced breaking 4 million subscribers (it reached the three million mark in October 2007 after just under four years with Sprint.) Verizon's competing V CAST TV service based on Qualcomm's MediaFLO has reportedly also seen mild uptake in the US.

How has a country with a reputation for insatiable television consumption (A.C. Nielsen reported last year a record high 8 hours and 14 minutes of TV viewing per household per day) been so slow to adopt a technology that makes television even more available?

The simple answer, In-Stat asserts, concerns the monetization problem. The US does not yet offer a free mobile TV broadcast. Abraham asserts, however, that there are many more factors than just this.

"It's also partly about the handset availability and cost; as there are limited handsets with mobile TV receivers available in the US," she said. "Many consumers also don't realize that they can get TV on their mobile."

Indeed, Verizon only offers four handsets supporting its mobile TV standard, and the recently-announced AT&T Mobile TV --which utilizes the same MediaFLO standard as Verizon-- has reported only two launch devices. MobiTV supports many more handsets with its java-based applet, but the company's feed was recently shown to be totally un-secured and accessible for free despite the $10 monthly charge to subscribers. A HowardForums user alerted the public to this, and the site was met with threats of removal from MobiTV.

MobiTV could have inadvertently expedited the US' slow uptake of mobile television with this public disclosure, however, it appears that for now, at least, subscription services are the only option for US mobile TV users.

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