EC officially backs DVB-H for mobile TV

The European Commission on Wednesday officially threw its support behind the DVB-H standard for mobile TV, making something of a U turn on its technology neutral stance.

On Tuesday, the Commission 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.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for the Information Society and Media (and very long job titles) said: “Europe is today at a crossroads. 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 take the lion’s share of the promising mobile TV market. ‘Wait-and-see’ is not an option.”

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.

To address this obstacle, Reding called upon the member states to make spectrum available for mobile broadcasting as quickly as possible, including in the UHF band (470-862MHz) as it becomes available. The Commission has also initiated the opening of another frequency band, the so-called L-band (1452-1492MHz) as a fallback solution.

And to support its backing of DVB-H, the EC will include the technology in the EU’s official list of standards as well as applying only light touch regulation on the “nascent service”.

Predictably, the FLO Forum, a global body of more than 80 companies backing the rival Qualcomm-developed FLO platform for mobile TV, attacked the EC’s intention of favouring one particular mobile TV technology, claiming it would stall the advancement of a “healthy European mobile TV eco-system”.

Kamil Grajski, president of the FLO Forum said: “Each country has its own unique market conditions and each mobile broadcasting technology standard has very different performance characteristics. Locking the European market into one technology model is potentially harmful to the growth of mobile broadcasting in Europe and will hinder the development of innovative technologies.

“Despite its youth, the mobile TV marketplace already offers multi-standard and multi-technology products and services – from chipsets to broadcast network transmission equipment. It is now cost-effective and routine to consider multi-modal mobile TV handsets. These developments should allow for the take up of attractive broadcasting services that will enable economies of scale. Technology is not the problem, but restriction of choice will be.”

Analyst Datamonitor agrees, saying that the EC’s decision will notably aide in the mass adoption of mobile broadcast TV but might come at the price of reducing open market competition.

Chris Khouri, media and broadcasting analyst at Datamonitor, said that while DVB-H provides an extremely attractive open standard, the move potentially comes as a blow to an industry led competitive marketplace. MediaFlo, DMB and DAB-IP have all been trialled throughout Europe and the market was expected to harmonize through technological innovation and chipset interoperability sometime in the near term, he said.

The EC sees 2008 as a crucial year for mobile TV take-up in the EU due to sporting events such as the European Football Championship and the Summer Olympic Games. But it remains to be seen whether many carriers will have acquired the necessary spectrum to launch such services by next year.

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