Nokia hedges bets on DVB-H and DVB-T

Nokia publicly underlined its commitment to broadcast-mobile-TV standard DVB-H with the recent unveiling of the mobile TV edition of the Nokia 5330 and its pretax, presubsidy price tag of €155 (US$230), after some in the industry had questioned its enthusiasm for launching new DVB-H devices. Nokia also quelled any suggestions that it might start supporting the MBMS standard with its future device launches.

The price is a massive drop from the €550 price tag carried by Nokia’s last fully DVB-H-compatible handset, the N96, which launched in 3Q08. So the official line from Nokia is this: “All is well on the good ship DVB-H.” But let’s examine the details and context of Nokia’s most recent announcement.

I quizzed Nokia vice president Mark Selby on whether the drastic reduction in price was an attempt to appease operators that offer DVB-H mobile TV services and have been openly critical of Nokia and the lack of choice in its DVB-H-handset portfolio. His reaction was an adamant “no.” But most other industry figures I’ve since spoken to on the matter would beg to differ, given the amount of criticism Nokia has received from the likes of Austrian mobile operators Orange, Telekom Austria and 3, which have gone on record with their frustration regarding the limited number of devices on the market.

Selby also told analysts at a recent Nokia Web seminar that he expected DVB-H networks to have commercially launched in several high-profile markets, including India, France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Spain and Turkey, by the close of 2011 and that the introduction of a DVB-H-compatible device at this price would accommodate these expected market developments. However, he denied any suggestion that it was a reaction to the offer of DVB-H handsets at a knock-down price by rival handset makers.

I have tried to refrain from judgement myself, but the fact that DVB-H mobile TV networks are more commonly launched in typically price-sensitive markets, such as Albania, Iraq, Namibia and Ivory Coast, than in “developed markets” leads me to take Selby’s comments on price competition with a pinch of salt.

I also found it interesting that the latest Nokia 5330 would be compatible with DVB-T networks. Although Selby was eager to downplay the importance of this feature, it reminded me of Nokia’s earlier strategy of launching the DVB-H-compatible N96 in markets where broadcast-mobile-TV services had not yet launched.

Selby confirmed that the 5330 would launch in markets where DVB-H has not yet launched and added that Nokia would consider shipping the device in markets where DVB-T networks are particularly strong. I’m doing pure guesswork here, but I think if we read between the lines we could conclude that markets such as Germany and the UK are on Nokia’s radar here. Remember, there is no official broadcast-mobile-TV standard in either of these sizable markets, and when it comes to decision time for German and UK regulators and operators on which standard to support, a mass of DVB-H-compatible Nokia devices already present in the market would surely be a contributory factor. If worse came to worst, the DVB-T compatibility of the Nokia 5330 is a bonus for mobile users that would require little extra investment from mobile operators and helps Nokia justify maintaining the average selling price of its device range.

However, all of this raises the question: Is Nokia attempting to flood the market with DVB-H devices to influence the thinking of network operators and regulators that have yet to make a concrete decision on which broadcast-mobile-TV platform to support? That’s a long-winded question, I know, but to my mind it might not be a bad idea.

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