Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Place Shifting" as an Alternative to Mobile TV

One of the alternatives to "official" mobile TV services offered by cellular network operators or by mobile broadcast network operators such as DVB-H, T-DMB and MediaFlo, is to access the user's home TV channels using a mobile device. Companies such as SlingMedia and Orb Networks offer transmitter devices (or PC software) which connect to the user's home TV or set-top box, and transmit the TV content over the Internet. The content can then be viewed from a PC or laptop connected to the Internet anywhere in the world, or from a mobile device such as a PDA or cellphone. This enables users to enjoy their home TV channels wherever they are, without paying a subscription fee for the service (except Internet access fees).

A recent article published in Forbes suggests that operators aren't fond of this idea, since it competes with their own subscription-based mobile TV services, and they may block place-shifted TV packets on their networks in the future. This has caused a major debate on the TechDirt website.

Some operators do not see these services as a competition, but as revenue opportunities. Last year, Sprint embraced place shifting technology when it announced a collaboration with Orb Networks under the Sprint Personal Media Link brand, which enables Sprint broadband customers to access their PC media files from anywhere on the Internet. However, the collbaration does not apply yet to access from Sprint's cellular network.

Another aspect that should be considered is the legal implications of place shifting technologies from the content owners' point of view. While home viewing of cable and satellite TV is protected by strong encryption technologies using conditional access cards, the streaming of these programs over the open Internet by the place shifting technologies is only protected by a user name and password. In some cases, this may violate the user's service agreement with his TV provider. An in-depth discussion of this issue appears in RedOrbit.

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