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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
EU backs standard for mobile TV
Commissioner Viviane Reding
Commissioner Reding feels Europe needs a single standard
European officials have backed a single standard for the rollout of mobile TV services across Europe.

Telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has called on member states to roll out services using the DVB-H standard "as quickly as possible".

Some key players have questioned why Brussels rather than the market is deciding what the standard should be.

And analysts warn it could see the UK fall behind unless regulatory issues are ironed out.

Switch on

Wait-and-see is not an option. The time has come for Europe's industry and governments to switch on to mobile TV
Commissioner Reding

Mobile TV services, which allow news, sports and other programmes to be broadcast directly to handsets, have begun rolling out around the world.

The European Union is keen to make sure the region remains competitive in a market it believes could be worth 20bn euros (13.5bn) by 2011.

Ms Reding has decided to come down in favour of a single standard despite hoping the decision would be made by industry.

"We can either take the lead globally - as we did for mobile telephony based on the GSM standard developed by the European industry - or allow other regions to take the lion's share of the promised mobile TV market," she said.

"Wait-and-see is not an option. The time has come for Europe's industry and governments to switch on to mobile TV."

Made compulsory?

Person watching TV on their mobile phone
Trials suggest there is an appetite for watching TV on mobiles

Ms Reding warned at the beginning of the year that Europe risked losing a chance to be a global player in the burgeoning mobile TV market.

DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds) has been identified by the EU as "the strongest contender for future mobile TV".

It was developed with almost 40m euros ($53m, 27m) of EC research cash and has so far been trialled or rolled out in eighteen European countries.

The use of the DVB-H standard will be "legally encouraged" among all 27 member states with the view to mandating use, if necessary, next year, said Ms Reding.

The decision is seen as a way of speeding up the rollout of services, which the EC believes could reach some 500 million customers worldwide by 2011.

Radio spectrum

While South Korea, the world's most advanced market for mobile TV, has 10% of the population using TV-enabled handsets, in Italy, the EU's most advanced market, less than 1% have them.

Ms Reding identified 2008, with important sporting events such as the European Football Championship and the summer Olympics, as a crucial year for mobile TV take-up.

DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds) - available in Europe, US, South Africa and Asia
S-DMB (Satellite Digital Multimedia Broadcast) - South Korea, Japan
STIMI (Satellite Terrestial Interactive Multiservice Infrastructure) - China
MediaFLO - launched in US, trialled in UK and Germany
ISDB-T (Integrated Service Digital Broadcasting) - Japan
T-DMB (Terrestial Digital Mulitmedia Broadcast) - South Korea, Germany
DAB-IP (Digital Audio Broadcast) - UK

There are currently around seven standards for mobile TV. DMB is widely used in South Korea, while Qualcomm in the US is relying on the MediaFLO standard that it developed itself. In the UK, Virgin Mobile is already offering TV services based on DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), a technology more usually associated with digital radio.

David McQueen, principal analyst with research firm Informa, is not surprised that the EU has come down in favour of DVB-H.

"It is the most open standard and there are more players in the market. Finland has networks already and in France there is a satellite hybrid solution," he said.

But for the UK the decision to plump for DVB-H could be problematic because it relies on freeing up parts of the radio spectrum.

The UHF band, which is identified by the EC as the most suitable spectrum for multimedia mobile services, is unlikely to be freed up in the UK until digital switch-over is complete in 2012.

"Most European countries are moving towards allocating spectrum but one anomaly is the UK," said Mr McQueen.

Mike Short, vice-president of research and development at O2, believes the move to back DVB-H could be premature.

"It is a bit like advocating one particular currency to be used across Europe when not everyone has it," he said.

Political decision?

He is seeking clarification from Ofcom as to what spectrum will be released and when.

"Ofcom's dates are unclear and, where they are clear, there is a different approach or it is out of step with others," he said.

Ofcom said that, far from being out of step, the UK regulator is ahead of the game when it comes to distributing spectrum for mobile TV services and other uses.

"Some of the spectrum will become available in late 2008 or early 2009. We consider that we are leading the way in Europe in terms of developing new uses for the digital dividend spectrum," said an Ofcom spokeswoman.

Graph to show spectrum allocation in Europe

Another frequency band, the so-called L-band, which could also be used to deliver mobile TV will be auctioned off in the UK at the end of this year, she said.

But, according to commissioner Reding's report, this band should only be seen as a "fall-back" solution.

Mr Short thinks there needs to be a level-playing field across Europe.

"We want to see spectrum available uniformly and preferably at the same time. This would offer consumers more handset choice, the chance to use them in more countries as well as offering a more cost-effective solution," said Mr Short.

As part of its announcement on mobile TV, the commissioner called on member states to "make spectrum available for mobile broadcasting as quickly as possible".

Satellite broadcaster BSkyB has been involved in several trials of mobile TV technology, including both DVB-H and a rival system MediaFLO.

It is not sure that the decision about what standard should be used should have been made by the EU.

"Our belief is that industry is better placed than politicians or regulators to pick winning technologies and that companies should be free to choose based on their commercial needs.

If there's a barrier to the early pan-European deployment of broadcast mobile TV, it's more to do with a lack of available spectrum than a lack of standardised technology," said a Sky spokesman.

Informa's McQueen is not surprised by commissioner Reding's decision.

"It is no coincidence that GSM flew after a decision to introduce it across Europe, whereas the US suffered for having different technologies," he said.

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