MediaFLO adds T-Mobile USA to trial mix

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Qualcomm Inc.’s MediaFLO USA subsidiary said the industry’s No. 4 operator T-Mobile USA Inc. is trialing its mobile TV service, adding another national carrier to its list of partners even as it prepares for the initial commercial launch of service with Verizon Wireless early next year.
“Our dance card is getting pretty full,” Gina Lombardi, president of MediaFLO USA told RCR Wireless News last week.

Sprint Nextel Corp. also is testing MediaFLO’s streaming television service, which the carrier has branded as Vue. T-Mobile USA is the first GSM carrier to trial the service. There is also speculation T-Mobile is testing DVB-H technology for mobile TV.

“We’re happy to be working with all the carriers in ensuring that their customers get the opportunity to have this service,” Lombardi said.

Mobile television service is widely anticipated to be the next big thing in wireless, although relatively few subscribers use the service in its current form, which typically piggybacks on carriers’ mobile networks. Analysts have raised the question of whether customers are willing to pay for the service-and if so, how much.

Once the network has its initial launch with Verizon Wireless, Lombardi said, it will be easy to add additional carriers to the service. The longest part of the lead time, she said, would actually be manufacturing the handsets with the necessary chipset-whether the underlying technology is CDMA or GSM doesn’t matter to technology-neutral MediaFLO, according to Lombardi.

No handsets on the market today have MediaFLO chips, although Lombardi said that “each of the carriers are working with different partners” on devices. She added that the company created its own devices in order to do testing. Carriers that didn’t have handsets available have been able to use the MediaFLO devices as a reference for designing and creating their own handsets.

Lombardi also addressed an area of concern for mobile TV: battery life. Qualcomm has designed MediaFLO so that it will not be a huge drain on battery life, Lombardi said, adding that watching the service would drain the battery at approximately the same rate as talk time.

Lombardi declined to discuss how long the T-Mobile USA trial has been going on, noting only that “We’ve been working with them for a bit,” or in which markets; T-Mobile USA Inc. could not be reached for comment. Lombardi compared MediaFLO’s network buildout to that of a carrier’s 3G network, where companies initially launched some large markets and then expanded their network coverage over time.

“We’ll start with a large chunk of markets and we’ll continue to evolve our footprint as they have over the past two to three years,” Lombardi said.

In general, Lombardi said that the trials “are going quite well. We’re very pleased.”

She added that MediaFLO “definitely [has]found that users who love TV, heavy TV users” with multiple televisions in their homes “are very passionate about television and they would love to take their television everywhere they want to go.”

The network also will allow alerts to be sent to subscribers, Lombardo said, citing examples such as sports updates or emergency alerts.

Carriers will set the prices consumers must pay for the MediaFLO-based service, Lombardi said. She compared MediaFLO’s offering to cable, in that the company will come up with a package of initial services much like basic cable with additional channels added later.

Lombardi added that according to the company’s consumer research, “it is not the number of services, it’s the right services. You need to have the right mix of entertainment, sports, news and kids programming.”

Lombardi said that since “advertising is in the fabric” of television broadcasts, it will be part of mobile television as well. MediaFLO has yet to name any content partners, but Lombardi said that the company is working with partners to decide, for example, whether programming will come with ads already attached so that an episode of a television show might have the same ads on a handset that it did on a TV set, or those ads might be replaced with something more targeted to the user.

Advertisers, she said, “would come mostly to us” if they wanted to place mobile television advertisements in MediaFLO programming.

Interestingly, T-Mobile USA is also rumored to be testing the mobile TV service from Hiwire. Hiwire, the mobile TV effort from Aloha Partners, plans to build a mobile TV network in the 700 MHz band using DVB-H technology.

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