Mobile TV/video: DMB v.s. DVB-H – and the winner is ..

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Note: see blog about correction to this article HERE rgds Ajit

Introduction – the disruptive potential of mobile TV

Most industry analysts are bullish about Mobile TV. With the soccer world cup upon us and with various ongoing trials of mobile TV in conjunction with the world cup, its a good time to address this topic now.

This article outlines :

a) The significance of Mobile TV and

b) My views on the success of it’s two major competing standards: DMB and DVB-H.

But let’s start from the very beginning .. a very good place to start ..

Driven by digitisation, broadcasting itself is undergoing a seminal shift, and these changes are flowing on to Mobile TV. In the UK, seventy percent of households have access to digital TV. That will jump to 100 percent by 2012, when the last analogue transmitter in the UK will be switched off. Digitisation brings choice. But it also changes viewing patterns because of features like the Personal Video Recorder(PVR) which can store hours of programmes. These programmes can be played whenever we want(i.e. content is now time shifted). In addition, the TV screen is not the only place where broadcast content could be viewed. It’s also possible to view the same TV channels over the Internet(broadband).

Naturally, this logic can be extrapolated to mobile devices, and it is in this context that content owners are trying to deploy their content on mobile devices. These devices could range from the iPod, the mobile phone, the Playstation Portable etc.

Broadly, there are two ways to transmit TV to mobile devices. The first is through the telecoms/cellular network (streaming) and the second is through a broadcast network (broadcasting).

While there is always the potential to deploy video clips via streaming, as per an industry estimate,(source: http://www.analysys.com/ ) , even if half of mobile phone owners watch even a few minutes of TV a day, 3G networks could overload within a few years. Thus, for most part, when we are speaking of Mobile TV, we are referring to Broadcast Mobile TV (as opposed to streaming Mobile TV).

Conceptually, ‘broadcast mobile TV’ is similar to ‘broadcast mobile radio’ i.e. some older mobile devices have had the capacity to play FM radio. This is similar to any FM portable radio (and portable radios could be independent of phones). The significant element being: the radio is receiving the content from the broadcast channels and not the cellular network. Mobile TV also functions in the same way as mobile radio. And this has interesting possibilities as we shall see below.

Oddly enough, when the 3G forecasts were made back in year 2000, the potential of broadcast mobile TV appears to have been overlooked.

Historically, the industry has always said:

- Text on mobile devices = GSM data services

- Still pictures on mobile devices + simple animations = 2.5G (GPRS)

- Video on mobile devices = 3G

When you factor in Mobile broadcasting, that picture now seems severely flawed, and with it, many of the market forecasts then produced.

For one thing, the broadcast space is regulated by the broadcast regulators (which are different from the telecoms regulators). Thus, once again, the familiar spectre of spectrum issues raises its ugly head, even as the Mobile network operators have yet to recoup their investments from the 3G licenses just a few years ago. Not only could Mobile broadcast TV and video cannibalise existing 3G streaming video services, but they could end up introducing a whole new class of competitors from outside the telecoms industry (specifically players currently in the broadcasting industry or entirely new broadcasters). Thus, financially, Mobile TV poses serious question marks on a number of market projections and forecasts.

Mobile TV is FAR more disruptive than anyone realises:

For example, once we all have the capacity to view video clips on handheld devices: which existing services will no longer be relevant?

For example:

a) Why would you want to view a picture (MMS) on a phone, when you can view a still image on mobile video (not to speak of the whole clip)

b) Considering there will be a limited amount of time when we are ‘on the move’ – will we play multiplayer games or watch video clips(thus cannibalising mobile multiplayer games)

c) And what about music. I am not sure of the stats on how much music(excluding ringtones) is downloaded on a phone via the telecoms network, but .. Why bother to download music, when you can get a music video??

d) Information services: everything from weather forecasts to stock tickers.

Why go to a mobile portal, when you can get the same on a mobile TV(broadcast)?

And so on .. In a nutshell, mobile TV is definitely a major disruptive force. Let’s now address the issues it raises in detail.

Standards

There are two notable standards for mobile video: Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H)and Digital MultiMedia Broadcasting (DMB). There are others like mediaflo from Qualcomm, but DMB and DVB-H are the two main players. While DMB is here today(and most prominently in South Korea but also in Europe and North America), DVB-H requires additional infrastructure and spectrum availability. However, in Europe, DVB-H has greater mindshare and a number of ongoing trials.

DMB

The Korea Broadcasting Commission (KBC) and Ministry of Information Communication (MIC) coined the term Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB). DMB defines technology adapted from the digital audio broadcast (DAB) system and developed by the country’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) during 2003. There are, however, two forms of DMB. Terrestrial DMB (T-DMB) which utilises a terrestrial broadcast network, and Satellite DMB (S-DMB) which utilises a combination of geostationary satellites and terrestrial repeaters. The latter method has been employed by TU Media, a joint venture between Korea’s leading mobile operator SK Telecom (which holds a 30% stake in the venture), Toshiba and a number of other companies.

Both T-DMB and S-DMB utilises the video compression technology H.264 for video coding.

In July 2005, the DMB standards received formal approval from ETSI

DVB-H

DVB-H is an extension of the DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) standard for digital television distribution. DVB-H is spectrally compatible with DVB-T, allowing shared use of the DVB frequency bands with no impact on the performance of cellular bands. In Europe, these extend from 470-862 MHz. DVB-H allows service providers to use the same digital broadcast infrastructure for both fixed and mobile TV services. The network design allows service providers to address a variety of usage situations (outdoor or indoor; pedestrian or moving vehicle; etc.) . Transmission of encrypted data is also possible. The DVB project governs DVB-H but DVB-H is also strongly evangelised by Nokia.

The service

From a user perspective, the mobile TV service involves more than just receiving the transmission on a mobile device. It could also potentially include:

• Live or on-demand reception

• Time-shifted Presentation

• Electronic Programming Guide, personalised by the subscriber

• Premium Channel Purchase

• Personalised Real-time and Stored Interaction, and Programmed Alerts

• In-Stream Advertising and Mobile Commerce

• Integrated Music Content;

• Integrated Location-Based Services,

• Unified Billing, Provisioning and Authentication

Source: Mobile TV winners – Walter Adamson www.digitalinvestor.com.au, www.imodestrategy.com

From one minute ‘mobisodes’ for ‘snacking content’, to longer movie clips, there is a range of Mobile video content that can be viewed on a mobile device. However, inspite of the hype, it is actually unclear if people want to watch video/TV on their mobile devices. Customers have always listened to radio at work or when travelling. Would they be willing to watch video? Also, the usual culprits i.e. girls(adult), gambling and gaming do not lend themselves to this medium.

In a survey of 1500 people aged 13-55 for olswang only 17% wanted to watch television content on the mobile phone but 44% said they would watch programs on their PC. 70% did not want to watch TV on their mobile phones at all!

Similar results were reported by strategy analytics http://www.strategyanalytics.net/ where fewer than 20% of the people polled(in UK, Germany, Italy and France) expressed an interest in watching mobile video.

In my view, these reports are not indicative though because Mobile TV is a much more radical idea, as we have seen in our service description previously. i.e. merely polling people is a waste of time with most radical innovations (which Mobile TV clearly is – as evident from the service description above).

The biggest positive uptake of Mobile TV is in South Korea. In South Korea, Tu Media has already amassed 550,000 subscribers to it’s Satellite DMB based broadcast TV service, with phones running on SK telecoms mobile network(source Financial times London – print edition – June 1 2006). For Korea’s nearly 50 million people and almost 40 million mobile phone owners, 550,000 Tu Media subscribers are 1.4% of the total phone subscriber base. In Korea, customers pay about 7 dollars per month to view TV content on the phones. On top of 550,000 on Satellite DMB, there are another 600,000 terminal (handsets, pda, USB, laptop) sales for Terrestrial DMB, totalling to well over 1.1 million Broadcast devices for Broadcast Mobile TV.

A comparison and player motivations

Here is a comparison of the two technologies and an idea of the motivation of the various players involved.

IP broadcasting: DMB and DVB-H are conceptually similar since they are broadcasting IP packets to mobile devices.

Spectrum: At the moment, DVB-H is still waiting for spectrum to be released by governments for example in the UK and other countries in Europe. Hence, we see many ‘trials’ but no ‘live’ installations. In fact, DVB-H is expected to be ‘live’ only around 2012 in the UK when the last analogue channels will be switched off. DMB has no such restrictions.

History of DAB There is already a large pool of DAB (audio) transmitters who could naturally take up DMB(video)

Back channel: DMB also has a ‘back channel’ and it is already in place. That’s very significant. With DMB, the broadcast comprises of Audio, Video and Data. It’s ability to overlay value added applications through the data channel is significant because it is two-way. This back channel fosters customer interaction. Currently applications in Europe of this type are normally managed via SMS for the back channel which is much more limited. DMB could provide many more options

Channel support – national (DVB-H)and local (DMB)broadcasting: There are technical differences between DMB and DVB-H but ultimately, the uptake does not depend much on specific technical differences. In fact, the two technologies can (and will) co-exist!. In general, DVB-H is capable of supporting a larger number of channels, whereas DMB is probably more suited to smaller number of channels and localised broadcasting. Thus, we are likely to see Mobile network operators implementing DVB-H at a national level but a large number of other players(broadcasters and emerging players) supporting DMB for localised broadcasting(Note that the DMB trial for the world cup in Germany is conducted by t-systems and not t-mobile i.e. a systems integration arm of an operator but not the operator itself)

DMB more disruptive: DMB is the more disruptive technology because it enables a larger number of new and smaller players to enter broadcasting. Technically: retailers, department stores, existing DAB stations and many others could enter broadcasting via DMB because it enables localised broadcasting and the investment is not as steep as DVB-H.

Content providers and broadcaster benefit from controlling the value chain in DMB: In a nutshell, they can bypass operators!

Tesco TV anyone: DMB will allow more players to become ‘broadcasters’ – Tesco TV anyone?

Handsets: The key differentiator is handsets. In most countries – including the UK, handsets are subsidised by the Mobile operator. Thus, to truly open up the market for DMB, we need cheap handsets supporting DMB (note they need not be phones!). In fact, I can almost bet that they won’t be phones in case of DMB, considering that much of the operator community is supporting DVB-H. Thus, I expect to see many cheap DMB players (mainly Korean) to be the market enablers in Western Europe and North America. In contrast, DVB-H does not face this issue because most handsets will support DVB-H and will be subsidised by the Mobile network operators.

Operators: Have already lost their leverage in broadcasting. They favour DVB-H mainly for it’s capacity to create a greater number of channels and it’s large upfront investment (which inevitably keeps the broadcasters out of running a ‘network’ and implies that the operators are still the primary channel to communicate with the customer via DVB-H). It also provides Operators with a level of control

Nokia : Is in a unique position of evangelising DVB-H globally and is the main beneficialry of the uptake of DVB-H in Europe and North America. Interestingly enough, for the first time, it is the dominant partner in the relationship with the Mobile network operators. Since it’s days of ‘Snake’ and the innovation of ‘ringtones’, Nokia has been an innovative company and has always had ambitions to play a greater role in the content value chain.These ambitions are well and truly realised with DVB-H. Overall, I see this as a positive development for the industry because Nokia has clearly demonstrated it’s innovative credentials.

Who supports DMB? The Koreans? Good question – but it’s not very clear cut. The South Korean government actively supports DMB, both inside and outside South Korea. But that’s not the case of ALL South Korean vendors. Samsung, for example, will merrily develop a DVB-H handset

Governments: Love spectrum! However, they are unlikely to make the same kind of gains as they did with 3G since the industry is wiser now!

The video iPod: Is the potential dark horse. If the iPod model works(resynchronization to the PC), then video content may well be deployed through resync with the web

User generated content: May well be the big winner with any standard.

DAB-IP: Just to make life interesting, the world DAB forum which created DAB, also supports a parallel evolution path to mobile video in addition to DMB!. They call it DAB-IP. So, from DAB, there are two parallel paths to go to video i.e. DMB and DAB-IP! Their official press release is HERE. If you take away the marketing speak, you will see that in addition to DMB trials, BT Movio is running trials for DAB-IP. This is confusing for most analysts and initially I totally missed out DAB-IP as well and confused it with DMB – but the two are definitely different!

Conclusions

a) I started this document by framing a question in the context of DMB and DVB-H. The reality is more complex as we have seen, especially if you include the video ipod and DAB-IP. But, whatever the combination, I believe that these technologies will co-exist: this is not a GSM/CDMA situation where there is only one winner

b) I believe that DMB is more disruptive than DVB-H (mainly because DVB-H is suited for larger players since it needs an initial significant infrastructure investment). DMB will be suited to the many existing and new content providers (partly because dealing with operators is such a pain and the content providers can control the whole value chain(because DMB allows a back channel for feedback, ecommerce, cross selling etc etc)

c) Consequently, of course, DVB-H can support a larger number of channels. Thus, I see DVB-H to be deployed nationally and DMB for localised broadcasting

So, to answer the question – DMB vs. DVB-H – who will win? The rather boring answer is ‘Both’!! – DVB-H at a national level and DMB at a local broadcasting level and as a disruptive technology. We could even extend this to ‘all’ technologies if we include DAB-IP and the video iPod.

References: Mobile TV winners – Walter Adamson www.digitalinvestor.com.au, www.imodestrategy.com

Image source: http://www.carreonphotography.com/photos/los_angeles_photojournalism/photojournalist06.jpg

Comments

  1. Thelf says:

    Nice piece of analysis although you have focused too heavily on the solutions which require additional networks to be built and have overlooked the multicast add-ons available to mobile operators. Take a look at MBMS (which is a ratified 3GPP standard) and TDtv (from the folks at IPWireless) both of which offer mobile TV solutions in existing spectrum using current operator infrastructure. Also DVB-H has significant spectral issues especially in countries like the UK where the spectrum won’t be available until the analogue switch off is completed sometime in 2012. Nokia have also been softening their line on DVB-H in the past few months and frankly will probably end up supplying handsets for a range of standards once operators make their choices…

  2. 7Lights says:

    Why wait for DVB-H when you can have a DVB-T mobile Setup box ?
    http://dti.imagesenligne.com/Documents/FTP/209/Logo/index.html

  3. SonjaK says:

    If you want to get an overview of the state of the art of Mobile Television business I urge you to fill out the survey Mobile TV – -hot or not?
    The questionnaire can be found from:
    http://digiumenterprise.com/answer/?sid=67523&chk=EM38SVNF
    The results will be published on 23rd November 2006. We would also be happy send you the Excel files if you are interested as this is done in the open innovation fashion by Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT).

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