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MediaFLO faces tough int’l battle

BARCELONA, Spain-While Cingular Wireless L.L.C.’s announcement last week that it planned to use Qualcomm Inc.’s MediaFLO network to launch a mobile television service later this year cemented the technology as the de facto leader of streaming TV in the States, the company likely will have a much harder time gaining customers in Europe.
DVB-H is still seen as the leading technology for deploying streaming television services on the continent, and for that matter around most of the world. With robust support from most European vendors and carriers, the technology that continues to struggle in the U.S. has found a warm bosom internationally.
“I don’t think vendors and carriers in Europe want to follow the U.S. in having a fragmented market for mobile TV services,” said Paolo Pescatore, research manager at IDC. “They have a history of unified approaches to mobile services and I’m sure they would like to stick with that.”
While MediaFLO had a strong presence at the 3GSM World Congress, most outside the MediaFLO or Qualcomm camp did not seem threatened. Even MediaFLO noted that it would have an uphill struggle in expanding the service internationally, but felt that with its commercial deployment in the U.S. imminent, international operators would have to take notice.
MediaFLO VP of Product Development Omar Javaid said the company was aggressively targeting both traditional wireless operators as well as more mainstream media companies in Europe for its solution, and that the commercial availability of the solution gives it an upper hand in comparison with DVB-H, which is still in test phase.
But, unlike the investment Qualcomm made in the U.S. in acquiring the spectrum and building out the network needed to support MediaFLO, Javaid said the company did not plan on copying that model for other markets.
DVB-H supporters see this as a major reason why MediaFLO will have a tough time expanding.
“You can’t blame [Cingular and Verizon Wireless] for going in that direction,” said James Hymel, product manager for Texas Instruments Inc.’s mobile TV efforts. “There is very little to no startup costs. All they have to do is sign up customers. But, that won’t be the case for the rest of the world. Carriers are going to want to make sure they have a broad base of support before investing in a mobile TV technology.”
Another barrier for MediaFLO’s international aspirations could come from device support.
While Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Co. Ltd. were named as initial handset suppliers for Verizon Wireless’ MediaFLO service, Cingular omitted such details in its announcement. Analysts warned that convincing handset vendors to build a GSM device with MediaFLO support would be a challenge.
“Handset support will hamper MediaFLO,” Pescatore said.
Once resolved-and there is no reason to think Cingular would have made the MediaFLO announcement if it did not have a handset deal lined up-the availability of devices could bolster MediaFLO’s efforts overseas as the eventual device would seemingly be easy to transition to the international markets.

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