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DVB-H Mobile Video Standard Gains Support Around the World

In mid-July, Viviane Reding, the European Union’s commissioner for information society and media called on member states to agree upon the DVB-H standard for the delivery of mobile broadcast television.

DVB-H, or Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld, in its simplest terms enables the delivery of television to mobile devices via the broadcast paradigm of over-the-air TV, which supports any number of simultaneous users, vs. streaming or downloading, which are often limited by the capacity of servers delivering content. (See a more detailed definition here.)

DVB-H isn't the only technology vying to dominate the potential multibillion-dollar mobile TV market, and as such the EU's decision has met with criticism, especially from the camps of competing technologies, as noted in this article. Their claim is that the market should determine a winner, and that government intervention may stifle innovation.

One of the first casualties of this announcement looks to be the UK-based Movio mobile TV service offered by BT through a partnership with Virgin Mobile. The Lobster phone that offered access to this service was built on Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), a competing standard for the delivery of mobile television. While other concerns plagued the service, this recent announcement by the EU was its proverbial nail in the coffin.

Elsewhere in the world, there's been a rush to invest in DVB-H networks:
— A pilot launch in Hungary by Antenna and T-Mobile Hungary
Trials and deployments across East Asia powered by UDCast
— A build-out of a DVB-H network in Moscow by VimpelCom
— The launch of the first commercial mobile TV service in the Phillipines
— The introduction of a new Nokia phone with DVB-H support in India.

Despite all this investment, DVB-H does have hurdles to overcome, in particular having the right spectrum available through which to deliver its broadcast signals. This article dives into what's going on in Australia regarding trials of DVB-H and the eventual launch of commercial services.

The challenge with spectrum is that DVB-H wants to ride in the 700MHz range, but in most countries that spectrum is already tied up with analog over-the-air TV broadcasts, including the United States.

Change is afoot, though, as countries that have not yet made the transition to digital broadcast TV are making moves to do so. This is perhaps best evidenced here in the U.S., where Tuesday FCC announced the rules for the upcoming spectrum auction, which will sell off that valuable 700MHz spectrum that's opening up with the upcoming transition to digital broadcasting to the highest bidder.

The U.S. isn't sitting around waiting for this spectrum to open up, as there have already been efforts to get DVB-H off the ground, though so far with limited success.

Earlier this year, Crown Castle International began testing its DVB-H-based Modeo mobile TV service in New York City, delivering six channels of live video and eight channels of audio. Despite a push to invest millions of dollars into this effort, last week they closed up shop, leasing access to the spectrum they were going to use to two private equity firms.

There's still hope for realizing success with DVB-H here in the States, though, through an upcoming trial by Aloha Partners of a service they call Hiwire in Las Vegas. On July 17, they announced their initial roster of content, which includes seven channels from Discovery Communications, six channels from MTV Networks, two channels from Turner Broadcasting, and a handful of others, including Fox News, the Travel Channel, and the Weather Channel. You can download a PDF of the release here.

No word yet on when this trial will actually launch, but with the high profile failure of Modeo, anyone interested in realizing DVB-H here in the States will need to pay close attention to the outcome herein.

For an in-depth look at the state of mobile video technology and its implications for mobile business models, look for Geoff Daily’s feature in the October/November issue of Streaming Media magazine.

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