Virgin Mobile customers in the UK are set to lose their mobile TV service after BT announced plans to pull the plug on its Movio platform on Thursday.
A spokesman for the UK incumbent told telecoms.com that following a review of its wholesale offerings, BT had decided not to continue with the Movio service.
The spokesman cited poor uptake of the service, a lack of compatible handsets and the fragmented nature of the mobile TV market, particularly the EC’s support of DVB-H and hesitancy on the part of the main network operators as they seek to fill their own largely underutilised 3G networks.
BT has cancelled its contract with G Cap Media, the company it leases DAB spectrum from and is working with Virgin, its only customer, on a time frame to kill the service.
“We have no option but to close the service down,” a Virgin Mobile spokeswoman told telecoms.com. “We plan to cut the service off in late January or early February next year,” she added.
When asked whether Virgin had been disappointed with uptake of the service, the spokeswoman said that the customer base was in the region of 20,000 users, which is higher than is generally reported and added that, “it is a new technology, we didn’t expect a big boom in adoption.”
Since its launch in October, Virgin’s mobile TV service had only been available on one handset, the Lobster 700 TV, as advertised by Pamela Anderson. The service was available for free to monthly subscribers and for £5 per month to prepay users. Virgin said it will not be altering its tariffs as a result of the closure of the service.
G Cap, which owns the DAB network capacity used to deliver the TV service, is now looking for a new partner to take over from BT but we think the company will struggle to find someone.
BT’s move casts even more of a damper on the European mobile TV market, at least for anyone who isn’t involved in DVB-H.
Last month, the European Commission officially threw its support behind the DVB-H standard for mobile TV, making something of a U turn on its technology neutral stance.
The EC urged the 27 EU member states to facilitate and accelerate the deployment of mobile TV across Europe and to encourage the use of DVB-H as the single European standard.
The only problem is that much of the spectrum necessary for DVB-H deployments is still tied up delivering analogue TV services and won’t be available in some countries until next year or even 2011 by some estimates, potentially delaying the development of mobile TV beyond the heavily criticised 3G streaming offerings.
Of course, the 4 Digital Group, comprised of Carphone Warehouse, Sky and Channel 4, as well as National Grid Wireless, could potentially step in to fill BT’s shoes. Both parties have applied to Ofcom to get their hands on a DAB national radio multiplex licence, which would allow the licensees to broadcast of a number of radio services as well as other applications, including mobile television.
Ofcom intends to make an award decision in August/September, but it is likely that BT’s actions could be seen as a vote of no confidence in the market and may well put others of entering the space.