Nigel Wright is the Vice President of Product Marketing at Spirent Communication; in this role he oversees the marketing communication and industry engagement around all of Spirentís wireless and positioning product lines. While at Spirent, Mr Wright has also served as the VP of Client Services, Director of Professional Services for the wireless business segment and General Manager for the GPS testing business. Prior to joining Spirentís wireless business, Mr Wright was Sales Director at Telecom Analysis Systems, since purchased by Spirent Communications. He went on to run his own telecommunications training business. Nigel Wright received the BSc degree in Electronic Engineering from the University of Brighton, England in 1981.
Mobile operators expect that mobile TV will attract and retain users - that is if they can improve the quality and cost of the experience. Better devices are on the market and in the labs and todayís limitations are sure to disappear in short order. Some mobile operators are already working to position themselves as leading distributors of entertainment content. An industry-wide consensus regarding mobile TV standards is essential, both to lower costs and provide a better, more consistent, viewer experience.
The launch of the MTV channel a generation ago met with considerable scepticism: ìWhy would anyone want to watch a music video? Itís all about hearing the music, right?î Wrong. MTV proved to be an enormous success and music video channels are a cornerstone of a service providerís offering. In 2007, we have reached a similar inflection point for a new flavour of MTV - Mobile TV. Like its predecessor, many question the viability of mobile TV. Will people really want to watch TV on their handheld devices, and will they be willing to pay for the privilege? The simple answer is, ëYes,í because itís already happening and the analyst firm Yankee Group estimates that there are 48 million mobile TV users in Europe, despite the technology only being in its infancy. Indeed, mobile TV could become the differentiator that attracts and retains customers for the converged service provider - if the quality of experience, QoE, meets or beats what TV viewers expect today. Network operators and content providers are no longer asking the question, ìCan we deliver mobile TV?î The question is, ìWill we be able to deliver mobile TV that lives up to consumersí expectations?î A matter of experience There are 17 new transport technologies available today to deliver mobile video including DVB-H, MediaFLO (US), ISBB-T (Korea) and SMB (Japan). Device manufacturers have been quick to see the market opportunity and have introduced handsets with new form factors, higher processing power, more memory and high-resolution displays. Studies show that current user expectations of mobile TV are actually very low and reflect their level of knowledge regarding the service. Small-scale video downloads are understood, but consumers have little knowledge about, and have low expectations for, real-time - live - channels. Therein lies the challenge and the opportunity. The ABCís of mobile TV As mobile TV subscribers learn about wireless video services, they will undoubtedly expect the service to be as easy as ABC: accessing, browsing and channels: a) Accessing, means loading and viewing high-quality video comparable with terrestrial TV with no delays or degradation of quality; b) Browsing, means intuitive, easy-to-use devices that minimise the clicking and scrolling required to access desired channels, change channels or volume; and, c) Channel choices and view changing, means offering broad, customisable and interactive choices of content via multiple, relevant channels. Additionally, mobile TV must be smoothly and seamlessly integrated with the mobile device. Alerting users when incoming calls arrive, they can pause their viewing to answer the call and resume viewing upon call completion. From hype to reality We know that mobile TV promises to help the bottom line of network operators, distributors and multimedia content suppliers by permitting premium services to be offered. The question to ask is, ìWhat is our role in the future of mobile TV and how are we going to deliver it?î To ensure that the fledgling one to two million viewers who watched the World Cup last year via DVB-H expands to hundreds of millions, the industry needs to understand the basic issues and challenges surrounding wireless video delivery. Tackling technology Among the largest hurdles to clear in any technology arena are the issues related to network delivery and interoperability. The industry has already witnessed multiple examples of operators and device manufacturers who failed to fully understand and examine the technology barriers during pre-deployment and paid a high price by losing the early adopters. It is no different for mobile TV. As mentioned earlier, the key to successful mobile TV service is seamless delivery and a high quality of experience. This means ensuring that network operators improve video delivery so consumers do not experience long download times and 30-second delays to switch channels just because of an IP network issue or poor radio conditions. There is an urgent need to build a consensus for industry standards, which are still highly fragmented. Without these standards, mobile network operators have to determine on their own how to connect the equipment with the content. As such, the industry has to collaborate to improve both network delivery and interoperability between the devices, the network and the content sources or else even the best TV experience will be too expensive. Device limitations Mobile devices present a range of challenges that need to be adequately addressed before mobile TV can see any significant uptake. One of the biggest limitations of mobile devices has been the user interface. With multi-media content and applications, devices have to present an intuitive user interface. Mobile TV controls on the devices have to be as intuitive and easy as using a traditional TV remote. Battery performance has been discussed extensively. However, now more than ever, there is pressure to determine how one can deliver a low-cost device that uses minimum power - with a battery that outlasts todayís best - yet delivers maximum video quality. This means making technology choices that increase battery life without increasing battery cost and/or size. Finally, the subscriber experience - quality of service, QoS, and quality of experience, QoE, - go hand in hand. Devices have to deliver high-quality video. Itís what the consumer sees. The image on their phone is the result of all the components working together to produce a high-quality video experience. Nobody wants the video to freeze when their team is about to score that all-important winning goal! Mobilising the mobile operator Perhaps the most challenged party in the race to deliver mobile TV is the mobile network operator. Why should they spend all this money when they just finished investing in 3G? The rewards appear to be great, if you follow the money. Mobile operators have to decide on the business model for their mobile TV offering. They can emulate traditional broadcasters - which involves negotiating content deals directly with content providers. Alternatively, they can follow the cable and satellite providersí model - where they negotiate with broadcasters. Either way, mobile operators have to make the shift from being telecommunications providers to being entertainment providers. Those who want to remain operators will let broadcasters dictate the content. Others, like Verizon, that have ambitions of becoming the leading entertainment provider, will collaborate with broadcasters. Mobile operators hold a uniquely powerful position - access to subscriber usage patterns and preference data. This allows them to become entertainment providers and not just communications delivery platforms. However, this opportunity hinges on their ability to deliver customised content and offer ëinteractiveí services on their cellular networks. Operators need to go beyond the traditional TV experience when delivering mobile TV. Today, customers using mobile TV have to connect to the Internet to view a clip of next weekís episode of their favourite show. In the future, carriers will have to offer real time and collaborative video content or else they will be just another iPod-like digital video player. Operators need to learn how to package entertainment that is similar, for example, to what Virgin Mobile offers today - five TV and 50 digital radio options. Furthermore, mobile operators have to partner with device manufacturers to offer subscribers attractive mobile devices that provide a compelling experience. Last but not least, they have to keep the customer happy and do this while balancing operational costs. A new generation of mobile services In standards forums, the industry is challenged with what feels like the search for the Holy Grail - the right standard to deliver mobile TV. In the lab, where the device manufacturers are no longer developing cellular phones but ëmulti-media devicesí, there is increasing pressure to pass both conformance and performance tests. At the mobile network operator level, challenges run the gamut, from interoperability issues and content conundrums to ensuring that they get the quality of experience right the first time. With all these challenges, why is everyone so interested in mobile TV? The reasons are plentiful and obvious. Mobile operators see this as an opportunity to deliver unique services that will increase their ARPU. They believe they can reduce churn rates by delivering customised content. Mobile TV broadcasting also offers operators scalability with low investment costs because, unlike 3G networks, capacity is usually unrelated to the number of subscribers. For content providers and broadcasters, thereís a whole new world out there - a new distribution channel - that will allow them to generate billions of dollars from the more than one billion mobile devices being used today. Why else would they spend several thousand dollars per minute of production to get your attention? Despite the uphill road toward mobile TV nirvana, this next-generation mobile application is a market reality that no one can ignore.