Thursday, February 15, 2007

3GSM 2007 Mobile TV Highlights

As expected, 3GSM 2007 was packed with Mobile TV demonstrations everywhere - including handsets, chipsets, network infrastructure, enabling technologies and content.

On the handset side, the show's major announcement was probably the Nokia N77 DVB-H handset. As rumored just before the show, this is a mid-range handset, which is targeted at initial DVB-H deployments in Vietnam, Italy and Finland. I took a look at the video quality, and it was quite good at 15 frames per second. However, every minute or two there was an occasional error in the stream (picture freezes or breaks into blocks). The demonstrator at the N77 stand in the Nokia booth claimed that this was due to the "crowded network at the show", which seems highly unlikely since DVB-H is a broadcast network... The channel switching time was also quite long, at 4-6 seconds. The long switching time was also apparent in other DVB-H demos at the show, and I also noticed this issue in CES demos last month, which leads to the conclusion that this is probably an inherent issue with current DVB-H implementations. The Nokia representative told me that the handset will cost 370 Euros without subsidies, and has a 5 hour TV viewing time, and 7.5 days standby time.

Another DVB-H handset was demonstrated by Sagem. Sagem is not a top-tier mobile handset vendor, but their myMobileTV handset is very nicely designed, and features an innovative auto-rotate feature which rotates and expands the image based on the direction in which the device is being held, using an acceleration sensor. In this demo I also witnessed the long channel switching time, and the occasional frame error every 1-2 minutes. The Sagem demonstrator came up with another original excuse for this, claiming that it was due to a low battery on the device (although the device was connected to a power supply and charging...). Another interesting handset demonstrated at the show was the Samsung SGH-F510, a slim DVB-H phone which blends well with the company's "thin is in" design.

Qualcomm showed the MediaFLO handsets which will launch with Verizon's service at the end of this quarter, the Samsung SCH-U620 and the LG VX9400. Qualcomm also showed a prototype handset of its own design, which is used mainly for testing the service. Judging by the video quality, it seems that MediaFLO currently has the edge: Frame rate is about 20-25 frames per second, and channel switching time is 2 seconds. MediaFLO also had a larger variety of channels at the show: 20 TV channels vs. only 9 channels which were available on the SIDSA DVB-H demo network at the show.

Other vendors were showing unicast live TV over cellular networks, circuit-switched streaming (using 3G video telephony for content delivery), and TV interactivity solutions. Compared to last year's show, 3GSM 2007 demonstrated the maturity of mobile TV technology and the range of available handsets, driven by commercially deployed services. However, subscriber numbers for paid mobile broadcast TV services in Europe remain low, both for DVB-H and for DAB-IP, so the question of return on investment still remains.


Julian said...

The Nokia guy/gal was right, the network is indeed loaded with tons of WIFI hotspots and other vendors showcasing RF equipment causing a lot of RF interference. DVB-H is indeed broadcast but given a lot of interefence the reciever will have a hard time to sync on the frequency (across MUXes), then on the time slices, then to decode badly corrupted packets. Add all this together you get a long time switching channels and occasionaly crappy video.

Amitabh said...

The scenario will change with the TV streaming becoming avalable over WiMAX networks. The WiFi hot spots have a lot of limitations in being to stream video for multiple users.

Amitabh Kumar
Mobile TV