AT&T US Mobile TV Delay Renews Concern About Viability

A move by AT&T last week to delay the planned initial rollout of its US mobile TV service, based on the MediaFLO platform, until "early 2008" at the earliest, is bringing up old questions about not only whether American consumers are ready to embrace the technology, but whether the infrastructure is there to support it.

The news was first reported by RCR Wireless and later confirmed by Reuters, and comes as bad tidings for Qualcomm, the key stakeholder in mediaFLO. When all is said and done, that company could have spent close to a billion dollars since 2004 on the establishment of an infrastructure for streaming full-length, broadcast quality TV programming to cell phones. For all that investment to make sense, customers have to want it, and not having it this holiday season won't help them to conjure a want for it.

A report released last week by media analysis firm Berg Insight states that 78%, or about 38 million, of all the world's mobile TV viewers are concentrated in two countries: Japan and South Korea. There, consumer interest is high, but not elsewhere. And those systems are based on competing Asian standards such as T-DMB; the world's #3 adopter of mobile TV is believed to be China, which has its own national standard.

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Compounding that analysis is a report released today by British firm Continental Research, and reported by Brand Republic, saying that in its recent poll, only 1% of British consumers are currently using mobile TV (probably DVB-H), and that only 3% are considering using it in the near future.

Elsewhere in the world, the Philippine government is responding to claims from its cable operators that having bequeathed the right to broadcast mobile TV to the company's telecom companies was against the law. MediaFLO was supposed to play a critical role in that country's service.

And in India, which has for years been debating whether content broadcast over mobile TVs be regulated using its outdated broadcasting content license laws or its equally outdated telecommunications laws, the country's distributor of Dish Network service has filed suit. It seeks to bar any service that uses MediaFLO from ever being established in India, on the grounds that it violates the country's policy toward open standards - in this case, its pre-existing, official endorsement of DVB-H.

It seems Qualcomm can't catch a break anywhere. For its investment to pay off and for mediaFLO to actually happen, it needs to have a home base. And with Europe's lawmakers placing its bets on its DVB-H continental standard and its people betting against it, the only market left where MediaFLO should have a chance is North America. That's why AT&T's rollout is so critical; if it doesn't happen here, it might not happen anywhere.

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