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Mobile TV moves forward: Verizon Wireless debuts channel lineup, Modeo turns on New York City trial

The nascent mobile TV market received a jolt last week as Verizon Wireless released more details of its forthcoming Vcast Mobile TV service, while potential competitor Modeo L.L.C. launched a trial of its service in New York City. Of course, those announcements were nearly drowned out amid the flurry of ballyhooed announcements coming from the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and MacWorld in San Francisco.
Analysts generally supported the initiatives, as well as the revenue potential of streaming live television to handsets, though they remained cautious on consumer reception.
“The nationwide U.S. carriers have so many customers that even the smallest numbers will provide significant revenue,” said Roger Entner, vice president of wireless telecom at Ovum. “I think we will see a divergent path. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that you need mobile broadcast television. I think a couple million people is still widely adopted.”
Verizon Wireless said it expects to launch its Vcast Mobile TV service during the first quarter and announced an initial channel lineup consisting of CBS, Comedy Central, Fox, MTV, NBC News, NBC Entertainment and Nickelodeon. The carrier plans to add channels in the future. Qualcomm Inc. has said that the MediaFLO network should be able to support between 20 and 25 live TV channels.
Current Analysis’ Weston Henderek also noted that Verizon Wireless’ typical claims of superior network coverage and quality could be challenged by relying on Qualcomm’s MediaFLO network.
“This could create problems for customers who buy the service and want to use it when they are not in a MediaFLO coverage area,” Henderek said.
Verizon Wireless did not seemed fazed by the issue.
“The reason we chose Qualcomm was because of their commitment to network quality. We haven’t changed our standards regarding the caliber of service that we offer customers and any outages will be managed just as they would normally-to resume service as quickly as possible,” Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Brenda Raney said. The carrier plans to put in place a special team of representatives to work with customers who have questions or issues about the quality of their reception, she said.
Vcast Mobile TV customers will be able to access the service via a pair of handsets: the Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. SCH-u620 and the LG Electronics Co. Ltd. VX9400. Both devices include CDMA2000 1x EV-DO support for traditional voice and data sessions and a dedicated Vcast Mobile TV button for quick access to the live TV service.

Modeo in beta mode
After more than three years of development and two years of trial testing in Pittsburgh, Modeo launched a beta trial version of its mobile TV service in New York City. The subsidiary of Crown Castle International Corp., which has yet to attract carrier partners, hopes the Big Apple trial will spur interest.
For the trial, Modeo will be distributing smartphones to a formal beta test group of several hundred users comprised of wireless carriers, reporters, industry analysts, financial analysts and content providers beginning later this month. The beta service will feature six video channels including Discovery Channel and Fox News and eight enhanced audio channels.
Modeo co-developed a smartphone with HTC for the trial; however it has also performed live demonstrations with a range of CDMA and GSM handsets from Samsung, Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc.
While customers will be required to purchase new handsets to access mobile broadcast television, some don’t see that as an impediment to interest and adoption among consumers.
“Considering that the average life of a handset is 18 months, that problem quickly takes care of itself. In roughly three or four years, everyone has one,” said Ovum’s Entner.
As for battery life, which consistently remains a top concern among cellphone users, Verizon Wireless and Modeo both claim it will not diminish noticeably.
Both Verizon Wireless and Modeo were tight lipped about cost, but many assume mobile TV to come with a monthly price tag of $20 to $30. “The closer it is to $20, the more people they will get,” Entner commented.

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