Mobile TV standard race gains momentum

Switzerland has joined a growing list of countries in Europe testing a broadcast mobile TV service based on the DVB-H standard.

Switzerland has joined a growing list of European countries testing a broadcast mobile TV service based on technology that is widely supported by operators but currently hindered by a lack of available spectrum.

Swisscom Broadcast, an arm of Swisscom AG, has begun a three-month test of the mobile TV technology based on the DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld) standard, the Swiss telco said Friday. The unit has selected 200 consumers in Bern to test the service.

The service will use broadcast towers to beam content directly to handsets equipped with antennas, as well as 3G (third-generation) networks to provide feedback channels that allow for interactive services.

Three operators will participate in the trial: Swisscom Mobile Ltd., TDC Switzerland AG (Sunrise) and Orange Communications SA.

Consumers will use Nokia Corp.'s N92 mobile phone, which can receive up to 17 TV channels and four radio channels.

Numerous European operators favor the DVB-H standard because, among other features, it can provide far more channels than rival DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting).

"The main reason why operators are interested in DVB-H is that the technology makes more efficient use of spectrum," said Eden Zoller, principle analyst at Ovum Ltd.

In June, Italy became the first country to launch a commercial broadcast mobile TV services based on DVB-H.

However, in many European countries, UHF frequencies required to provide broadcast via the DVB-H standard are currently blocked, Zoller said.

Consequently, some mobile phone operators are exploring alternatives.

Earlier this month, Hutchison 3G UK Ltd., Orange SA, Telefónica Móviles SA and Vodafone Group PLC agreed to test TDtv, a new technology that uses idle radio frequencies acquired with their 3G mobile licenses. They're conducting tests on 12 cell sites in Bristol, England.

A key benefit of TDtv, developed by IPWireless Inc., is its use of idle unpaired 3G spectrum bands available across Europe and Asia at 1900MHz and 2010MHz. The bands were originally intended as an overflow space for 3G Internet services, which have yet to materialize and are likely to be eclipsed by wireless LAN services such as Wi-Fi and WiMax.

In addition to DMB, DVB-H and TDtv, Orange is testing a satellite-based technology, which uses the S-Band instead of UHF.

For now, DMB is enjoying a window of opportunity thanks in large part to available frequencies and handsets, according to Zoller. Germany, for instance, has already issued mobile TV licenses based on this standard.

With their trials, pro DVB-H operators are responding to this development, Zoller said. "If operators can prove sufficient demand to regulators, they'll be able to persuade them more easily to take action and free up spectrum," she said.

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