Will a new standard enable Mobile Video to take off in the U.S.?

Introduction
 
For several years, mobile video has been promised as the next big wireless market segment in the U.S. Indeed, mobile video has gained a foothold in Asia, with South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan leading the way. Between 2008 and 2014, the number of customers using mobile video services in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to jump fivefold to 534 million, according to Pyramid Research.   But despite efforts by MobiTV (working with mobile carriers) and Qualcomm (Flow TV/ MediaFlo), mobile video growth has been less than stellar in the U.S. This is probably due to a combination of factors, including mobile network service limitations (especially bandwidth and QOS), a very complex ecosystem, tiny screen sizes on hand held devices, and high monthly subscriptions for mobile TV offerings.
 
A New Standard Emerges
 
A new mobile video broadcast standard may change that. With the recent ratification of the A/153 ATSC Mobile DTV Standard, U.S. broadcasters are now able to deliver live video content to a wide variety of mobile devices. The standard is built around a robust transmission system based on VSB modulation, with enhanced error correction and other techniques to improve robustness and reduce power consumption in portable receivers. The transmission system is coupled with a flexible, extensible IP-based transport system, MPEG AVC (ISO/IEC 14496-10 or ITU H.264) video, and HE AAC v2 audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) coding.   The ATSC Mobile DTV standard is the culmination of a development process that took about two and a half years.
The ATSC Mobile DTV standard was devised for mobile phones and handheld devices, in part because watching TV on handsets has become common in parts of Asia. But so far, no wireless carrier in the United States has agreed to sell a handset with a tuner that can use the new standard (see Opinion section below for one scenario). Targeted devices for mobile DTV include not only mobile phones, but also other handheld devices (including Mobile Internet Devices or MIDs) and in-vehicle entertainment systems. 
 
The Mobile Video Coalition, a group of more than 800 broadcast stations supporting development of mobile DTV, released a statement congratulating the ATSC for its standardization efforts. “With adoption of the ATSC Mobile DTV Standard, small-screen versions of [broadcasters’ HD] programming and other services also will now be available over mobile devices,” said Brandon Burgess, president of the OMVC and CEO of ION Media Networks. The Coalition said that at least 70 stations would begin broadcasting using the standard.   In contrast with mobile network operators, which must to pay the U.S. government for licensed spectrum, broadcasters are able to use spectrum for mobile video services that was essentially given to them at no cost for fixed video broadcasts to television sets.
 
According to the Coalition, new mobile DTV services based on the standard might include: "emergency alerts that can be customized by market or location, live audio feeds, data-casting with traffic maps, closed captioning, ‘clip casting’ sports and news highlights that could be stored in memory on a device, ‘push’ video-on-demand for future viewing, time-shifted television, mobile digital video recording, interactive polling, electronic coupons, targeted advertising, [and] an electronic service guide for ease of tuning."
 
David Donovan,  President  of the Association for Maximum Service Television said that adoption of the new standard will allow local broadcasters to advance efforts to deliver local TV news and entertainment to viewers, said “Today marks the beginning of a new era in digital television broadcasting,” he said in a statement. “Not only will this provide a new venue for watching local news and sports, it will crate a critical platform for emergency communications.”
 
Availability of Devices and Components
 
Several electronic device and PC makers, including Samsung, LG and Dell, have produced prototype devices, according to the NY Times. An ATSC mobile video receiver is first likely to be available on netbook computers, according to a report in Broadcasting and Cable. Korean conglomerates Samsung and LG have already announced “low power” components that will support the new mobile DTV standard
 
Time frame for market liftoff?
 
Some observers now believe that mobile TV in the U.S. will really take off in 2010. Broadcast Engineering magazine (http://broadcastengineering.com/RF/will-pc-mobile-screens-displace-living-room-tv-set-sports-viewing-1019/) asks if mobile TV screens will eventually surpass living room screens?
 
Only television station licensees have the infrastructure to deliver Mobile DTV to the public. That means that TV stations control the pipeline and they alone can deliver free, over-the-air Mobile DTV to consumers. The stations themselves will be able to monetize content that they create, but it also creates unlimited opportunities to partner with other content creators who want to reach the American public on the move with their new mobile devices. Another alternative (to be explored in a future article) is for TV broadcasters to partner with 3G/4G mobile operators to offer a combination of Mobile TV/VoD and Internet Video, using separate radios (one for each network).
 
"Mobile video is in the early stage of market adoption but the future of viable mobile video services greatly hinges on resolving technology complexities, effective management of ecosystem and enabling compelling business models. With the explosion of video consumption such as YouTube and advancements in mobile broadband and broadcast technologies such as WiMAX, LTE, ATSC-MH, DVB-H, service providers can now enable compelling mobile video solutions to the end-users with personalized interactive services. We see fundamental shift of control to end-users so they get to watch the content in a personalized way – what they want, where they want and when they want,” said Venkat Eswara, Director of Marketing, Applications and Mobile Video at Motorola, Inc.
 
 
Editors Note: Venkat presented at the STB 2009 conference earlier this month in San Jose, CA. Navin Mehta- Motorola’s VP of Global Business presented the STB 2009 keynote talk on mobile video.
 
Opinion:  We think that a mobile WiMAX operator like Clearwire or one of its MVNO resellers (SPRINT, Comcast, TWC) could partner with broadcasters to offer a combination of Mobile Digital TV (using broadcast frequencies from about 400-700 MHz) and Internet video (using the mobile WiMAX spectrum, which is nominally 2.5 GHz in the U.S.). Other possible services include: streaming video- on- demand (e.g. news, entertainment or sports clips), a searchable network resident Personal DVR, and downloaded videos (most likely for notebook PCs with larger screens) that might be available from 3rd party content delivery based web sites. The provision of 3rd party video content is analogous to the Apple app store business model. 
 
The key to success in this multi service mobile video scenario is for mobile operators to entice device makers to build handheld devices and netbook/ notebooks with multiple radios, e.g. a Mobile DTV receiver, mobile WiMAX (or 3G) send/receive, and possibly WiFi and/or GPS. We would especially encourage Comcast and Time Warner Cable to do this as they have lots of experience and know how with video content and VoD.
 
 
Mobile Video in Action
 
To get a glimpse of what this ATSC mobile TV technology looks likes in practice, check out this ViodiTV video from the NAB 2008 conference:
 
 
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References for mobile video in the U.S.:

Tellabs to acquire Wichorus to extend its Mobile Backhaul product portfolio

Breaking News:

To accelerate its transition from an optical transport vendor to an Internet Protocol network equipment company, Tellabs is acquiring mobile packet core maker WiChorus for $165 million in net cash. Tellabs counts 43 of the top 50 service providers as customers, with their IP mobile backhaul products deployed by 120 network operators. The acquisition extends Tellabs wireless backhaul products to a fast growing adjacent market- gateways for mobile IP traffic (such as the ASN Gateway for mobile WiMAX). That market is expected to reach $2.6B in 2013, sporting a better than 22% compound annual growth rate. The transaction is expected to close no later than February 2010.

"We are very excited about this acquisition and believe that, together (the combined company), will revolutionize the mobile Internet," said Tellabs Marketing Communications Manager Ariana Nikitas. She further stated the acquisition would extend Tellabs mobile backhaul product portfolio (see CHART below) to a fast growing adjacent market. "The resulting products will enable service providers to deliver richer experiences to mobile end users," she said.

Analysis:

Tellabs recognizes the mobile Internet is taking off and WiChorus has a product their service provider customers very much need. Sales of smartphones are growing more than 30% a year while netbook sales have been very strong. People are spending more time surfing the Internet while on the move. As a result, Tellabs’ mobile customers expect mobile data traffic to grow 30% to 50% a year for the foreseeable future. AT&T recently indicated its mobile traffic has quadrupled over the past year.

Such high growth demands scalable, next-generation network architectures to deliver 3G and 4G multi-media and video services. This acquisition will enable the combined company to help facilitate delivery of those services, while providing richer experiences to mobile Internet users. It will enable Tellabs to compete with Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, and Cisco (which recently announced its acquisition of Starent Networks) in the 4G/3G mobile packet core market.

While Tellabs spends 17% of its revenues on R & D, they found it more expedient to acquire Wichorus’ mobile packet core technology than develop it internally. They believe this will make them more competitive in the mobile backhaul market. Independent of that, Tellabs has a very high opinion of WiChorus’ mobility management and routing technology.

On a conference call today, Tellabs CEO Robert W. Pullen said the Wichorus platform was a "purpose- built 4G (WiMAX, LTE) architecture that is backward compatible with 3G (GGSN, HSPA, HSPA+)." As a result, it can be sold to WiMAX operators now and 3G or LTE operators in the future. Tellabs stated there were two potential service provider customer types for the WiChorus platform:

– Those that are optimizing their 3G mobile networks and evolving to 4G (LTE).

– Those that have leapfrogged 3G to deploy 4G (Mobile WiMAX and LTE).

Wichorus’ "best in class" deep packet inspection capability and performance was particularly attractive to Tellabs. It was said to produce much less throughput degradation than competitor mobile packet core products. Tellabs claims that the WiChorus 4G packet core product offers eight times more throughput than competitive offerings.

The Wichorus SmartCore™ platform was said to address the unique requirements of the mobile Internet:

  • Includes a full range of mobile IP products (from low entry price to highly scalable) for applications including GGSN, LTE and WiMax, plus new application enablement with superior DPI capability.
  • Offers 8 times more throughput, 4 times more simultaneous Internet connections and active users, compared with competitive platforms in gateway applications.
  • Uniquely combines world-class application analytics with a mobile core gateway for improved traffic engineering and network optimization.
  • Enables customers to analyze and monetize more than 400 of the top mobile Internet applications.
  • Makes mobile networks content-aware and context-aware, with personalized application-awareness.
  • Outperforms other platforms in delivering mobile Internet capacity. For example, competitors’ capacity significantly degrades (as much as 30% to 50%) during deep-packet inspection (DPI).
  • Delivers new and differentiated applications such as Internet offload and distributed LTE gateway. The SmartCore™ platform can offload as much as 70% of traffic at the network edge, increasing core network efficiency and improving user experiences. As a result, customers can save as much as 50% in capital expenses, compared with the present method of operation.

The WiChorus ASN Gateway is being sold to Clearwire and trialed by other mobile WiMAX network providers. Tellabs CEO Pullen said that the company’s next product will be for "business services delivery" using femtocells and picocells.

When asked to comment on future product plans, Ms. Nikitas declined, stating that the acquisition had not yet taken place and could not comment till the merger had actually been consumated.

Tellabs has a large portfolio of transport and network management products for wireless backhaul. These include:

  • Tellabs® 6300 Managed Transport System
  • Tellabs® 7100 Optical Transport Series
  • Tellabs® 7300 Metro Ethernet Switching Series
  • Tellabs® 8100 Managed Access System
  • Tellabs® 8600 Managed Edge System
  • Tellabs® 8800 Multiservice Router Series
  • Tellabs® Intelligent Network Management

Opinion:

We think this is a very good move for both companies and we predict more acquistions and consolidation in the network equipment market.  In particular, watch Ciena which has optical backhaul products, but nothing for the "3G/4G mobile packet core."

Reference:    http://www.tellabs.com/news/2009/index.cfm/nr/79.cfm

CTIA Wireless 2009 report: FCC Plans to Free Spectrum, Remove Barriers to entry for new mobile operators

In a keynote address at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment convention in San Diego, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined steps the agency is taking to provide more spectrum and remove obstacles to help speed the development and expansion of next generation wireless networks. Will such measures be effective?

FCC Chairman’s Remarks at CTIA 2009

For several years, Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), rural and independent telcos and MSOs have been urging the FCC and U.S.  government to free up licensed spectrum to enable them to build faster, more robust and reliable wireless access networks.  Both fixed and mobile WiMAX players would be major beneficiaries of this initiative as WiMAX technology would likely be used by network operators to provide much better wireless broadband service than is possible with unlicensed spectrum, which is prone to interference, coverage gaps and other problems. 

The CTIA – The Wireless Association® ("CTIA") has recently petitioning the FCC to reallocate 800 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband providers by 2015 (see next section of this article).  At his October 7th CTIA Conference keynote address, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made reference to that petition by saying that a lack of licensed spectrum is "a looming crisis" as U.S.  consumers increasingly rely on mobile devices such as smart phones, netbooks, eReaders, etc. that require heavy wireless data usage. 

In his address, Genachowski said that the FCC would examine how to reallocate spectrum for wireless Internet services and look towards ways to promote secondary markets for airwaves, giving companies that hold spectrum licenses the right to lease those licenses to others.  "No sector of the communications industry holds greater potential to enhance America’s economic competitiveness, spur job creation, and improve the quality of our lives," Genachowski said.  "My goals with regard to mobile are the same that define and drive all our work: fostering innovation and investment, promoting competition, empowering and protecting consumers, all in an effort to help ensure the U.S.  has a world-leading communications infrastructure for the 21st century.  As this audience knows, it takes years to reallocate spectrum and put it to use.  And there are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart."

Genachowski went on to say that the FCC would also try to clear obstacles for wireless network operators trying to install new 4G networks, including speeding up approvals for new cellphone tower construction, which often are met with local community resistance.  In this regard, the FCC will propose a federal "shot-clock" on tower-siting, while still being sensitive to local jurisdictions.  The siting of towers has long been an obstacle for wireless carriers and tower companies as subscribers embrace mobile services, but city and local governments often don’t want the accompanying infrastructure needed for those services.  Genachowski said he understands that Internet providers and wireless network operators need to manage their networks.  "We recognize there are differences between wired and wireline network technologies," said Genachowski.  "They are different networks and because they are different, I have said the rules that are adopted need to allow for reasonable network management.  But we need to have clear rules of the road for everyone regardless of how they access the Internet."

In a press release issued shortly after Genachowski made his keynote remarks, AT&T Wireless Division CEO Ralph de la Vega called for a fact-based discussion with the FCC.  "Before we begin ‘fixing’ what isn’t broken, we need to be thoughtful about the consequences," said de la Vega. 

In reaction to the Commissioner’s speech, Sprint issued a press release that supports Mr. Genachowski’s recognition of the importance of mobile broadband networks.  "Sprint Nextel shares with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski the view that American business and consumers benefit from the deployment of 4G mobile broadband networks.  At Sprint, we are proud to be the first and only nationwide wireless carrier to offer 4G (i.e.  mobile WiMAX) in the United States.  For Sprint customers, 4G isn’t the future, 4G is here now.  Sprint 4G is available in 16 markets today and we expect to offer Sprint 4G service to 120 million people in 80 markets by the end of 2010."


To read the entire article, including my editorial comment, please see:

http://www.wimax.com/commentary/blog/blog-2009/october-2009/ctia-wireless-it-e-2009-fcc-plans-to-free-spectrum-remove-barriers-1009

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