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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Major UK mobile TV trial starts
Image of mobile TV

A full-scale UK trial of the technology that will let people watch TV directly on their mobiles has been launched.

The Arqiva and O2 trial with 400 people in Oxford will test the technology that lets mobiles receive direct TV signals, and people's desire to watch mobile TV.

Sixteen channels will be available to the triallists, including BBC One and Two, ITV 1 and 2, and Channel 4.

TV is touted as the next phase of mobile entertainment. Orange already offers some shows on its 3G network.

"Increasingly, new forms of content are making their way onto mobile devices - music, in particular, is already booming - and the latest buzz is about television," said Dave Williams, O2's chief technology officer.

"There will be many millions of mobile TV viewers worldwide by 2010."

O2 and Arqiva, which was previously NTL Broadcast, have joined with Nokia and terrestrial and satellite broadcasters for the six-month Oxford trial.

Testing times

Although 3G networks are currently used to watch some TV content on mobiles, the Oxford trial will test out the more complicated technology, called DVB-H, which stands for digital video broadcasting - handheld.

It is one of two formats or standards with which global broadcasters and the mobile industry have been experimenting across US, Germany, France, Finland, Sweden and other countries.

It is a standard which has been specifically developed for the broadcast of TV signals on mobiles and other handheld devices.

The technology lets mobiles, which have special requirements because of screen size and battery life, handle TV signals in real-time. It also allows broadcasters to send the same signals to multiple handsets.

Image of mobile TV on 3G
Orange found people watch about 35 minutes of mobile TV a month
Orange is due to take part in DVB-H trials of it in France at the beginning of October.

Triallists in Oxford will watch TV on the Nokia 7710 handset, a widescreen multimedia smartphone released earlier this year. It has the receiver in it to get the TV signals.

Shows such as Coronation Street, BBC News 24, CNN, MTV and CSI will be available. The trialists will be able to choose what they want to watch using an on-screen guide, through which they can search for shows.

Mark Selby, Nokia's vice president, multimedia, said the trial was an important step in the roll-out of mobile broadcast TV.

"Consumer reaction and usage patterns will help the broadcast and mobile industries understand what content viewers want to see on this exciting new technology," he said.

Orange, which launched its 3G mobile TV service in May, found that 36% watched its TV service during lunch and other breaks, as a short TV "snack".

It said 18% watched mobile TV while travelling, 12% while waiting for friends or queuing, and 10% watched it at home.

Mobile operators across Europe are keen to start using mobile TV technology in time for next year's football World Cup in Germany.

But there are still big issues to be ironed out.

"As an emerging industry, mobile TV will require a willingness of operators, regulators, broadcasters and handset suppliers to strike new deals," explained O2's Mr Williams.

New spectrum

"Regulators need to licence new spectrum, which will allow global economies to exist, broadcasters and publishers will need to tackle digital rights issues and operators develop workable revenue sharing partnerships."

Live TV services on mobiles are still in their infancy in most parts of the world and many in the industry are still unsure whether people will want to pay to watch TV on what are small screens.

There are also issues around battery life. DVB-H uses a technology called "time slicing" which means up to eight hours of TV can be watched on one battery charge.

Only the information needed for the channel being watched is sent to the phone to conserve power.

But DVB-H is in competition with the digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) standard.

The Japanese, South Koreans and Ericsson of Sweden back DMB because they say the technology drains batteries even less and it handles more frames a second.

Mobile companies are expected to have about 51 million users of mobile TV by 2009, making an estimated $6.6bn (3.5bn) in revenue, according to technology consultancy Strategy Analytics.

South Korea's top mobile operator SK Telecom and its affiliate TU Media launched a satellite pay-TV service to mobile phones in May this year.

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