MobileTV abandons DVB-H

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MobileTV is no longer interested in the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld) broadcasting format.

It has instead adopted the Korean Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) technology that will be coupled with the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) format.

The company says it's ready for a permanent licence for transmission through DMB. The signal went live from Sentech's Brixton Towers' site, in Johannesburg, with test transmissions last week on SABC TV and radio using the Korean DMB technology.

Familiar territory

MobileTV - formerly known as the MobileTV Consortium - was given a non-commercial licence in September, by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), to test the technical abilities of DMB over a 12-month period.

However, chairman Mothobi Mutloatse says ideally, the testing will be complete in three to six months.

“Once the testing is complete, we will apply for a permanent licence from ICASA. We need to produce a technical report for ICASA, stipulating the capabilities of DMB technology.”

He explains that the company is partnering with Sentech as a signal distributor and using DAB spectrum, which is already available at the state signal distributor's tower.

“Since it's not a new territory, we are not starting from scratch, because DAB is already there. But we need to go through the formalities.”

Mutloatse says this includes testing that DMB and DAB are compatible and can be deployed in SA.

“We think we're more than ready. If we could install and go live with the test within seven days of the technology coming in from Korea, then it won't take us long.”

Live partnership

MobileTV went digital on the SABC1 and SABC2 television channels and the 5Fm and Metro FM radio channels.

Mutloatse says a technical team was assembled from Sweden, Austria, South Korea, and SA.

“SABC is the first broadcaster to be granted the honour of testing not just digital multimedia broadcasting in SA on mobile devices, but equally interactivity.

“This means then that both SABC radio channels (5FM and MetroFM) became the first audio stations to go digital in SA. Soon, one of them would also become the first audio station in Africa to test DMB's visual radio interactivity, which allows for music downloads and Internet services,” adds Mutloatse.

He says the national public broadcaster has been identified as a strategic component of MobileTV's offering. "This is for the simple reason that the SABC is the broadest and most diverse media house in the country, commanding 70%, that is 35 million, viewers and listeners daily. It is the ideal launch pad for MobileTV.”

Standards battle

MobileTV had initially applied for DVB-H spectrum from ICASA, but was denied, as it did not have a broadcasting licence, according to the regulator.

Mutloatse says the company is no longer interested in DVB-H. “We're comfortable with the technology we have chosen, because of the success it has had in its mother country, Korea, and about six other countries. It has its track record.”

“Also, DMB is the only dedicated mobile technology. It's specifically for mobile.”

Independent analyst Richard Hurst says it is too early to compare the standards and decide which will work better. “It seems to be a battle of the standards, but in the end it will be the end-users that will dictate.”

He adds that the key is going to be what the operators get out of it.

“It's just the test phase now and we do need to go through that phase and see what the rest of the world is doing.”

Mobile TV arrives

A controversial invitation to apply from ICASA resulted in the authority granting high-frequency radio spectrum licences for mobile TV services in multiplex 1 to etv, with capacity of 40%, and MultiChoice, for capacity of 60%.

Two months after being awarded their mobile TV licences, MultiChoice and etv teamed up to unveil the country's first digital terrestrial mobile broadcast offerings.

MultiChoice last month unveiled a subscription-based bouquet, DStv Mobile, offering seven channels, while free-to-air broadcaster etv offers two channels through its e.Mobile TV offering.

The service will cost subscribers R36 per month from 1 April 2011.

Coverage is limited and currently only available in certain areas: the major centres of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Soweto, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane, Mbombela, Rustenburg, Bloemfontein and Durban.

Prior to this, the only option available to broadcasters was to team up with mobile operators to offer a 3G version of mobile TV. These offerings were criticised for poor quality and high cost.

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