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dab digital radio mobile

The End of BT Movio – Mobile TV on DAB Digital Radio

BT Movio have announced today that their mobile TV service, delivered via DAB on the DigitalOne multiplex, will cease sometime prior to June 2008. Various reports today have suggested that the service will stay live until January 2008, although it’s not clear if Virgin Mobile (the only network to take the service up) has ever made any firm commitments to their subscribers about a minimum supply period

I have mixed emotions about this turn of events. Only a few days ago, I commented that the BT Movio service was a bold attempt to get DAB technology into mobile phones. Ultimately, the service only appeared in one mobile phone device, the bizarrely named Lobster phone manufactured by HTC.

I know that a great deal of effort went into the engineering of this world-first device, and it is actually a superb DAB digital radio device with an OKay-ish Microsoft Smartphone attached. That’s one of the disappointing facets of this event – that an excellent DAB + Mobile Phone combination will be withdrawn from sale, and there are so many of them left in the warehouse. If BT or Virgin want to minimise their exposure, they would do well to sell the Lobster just on its excellent DAB Digital Radio credentials. It’s got a great EPG, great navigation model and great reception. If it had a DAB Slideshow viewer, it would be nearly perfect from a radio point of view.

The other, often unrecognised, benefit is that BT Movio helped DigitalOne improve their network coverage substantially to provide good handheld portable DAB reception. It will be a real shame if these network extensions, particularly in the London area, are decommissioned. Quite of lot of the improvement in Central London coverage has come from a relatively modest site installed on the BT Tower, which boosts the DigitalOne and London II multiplexes.

Movio’s closure will free up about 400kbit/s on the DigitalOne multiplex. That’s capacity that’s been unavailable to the radio industry, and led to the operation of Core, Capital Life and theJazz in mono. There’s an opportunity there not only to restore those to stereo services, but also to enable some of the data services that should be defining the digital radio experience of the future. Unfortunately, Movio was doubtless carrying a large proportion of the cost of the DigitalOne network which will now fall onto a radio industry that’s having some hard times at the moment. I ferverently hope that the economics of radio have improved markedly before Movio’s funding ends in a year from now.

Some press reports have speculated on a correlation between the European Commission’s decision to get behind DVB-H and Virgin/Movio’s decision to drop their service. The DAB-IP platform used by Movio was always an unique and very proprietory platform, despite efforts to make it a standard in the DAB family. It’s demise is not really that relevant in the wider discussion about mobile TV technology, and DMB still remains a very formidable competitor to DVB-H. It’s outlandish that the EU should tacitly suggest a “not made here” approach to a technology built upon Eureka 147. That’s the kind of thing America does, and you would have thought we (and they) would have learnt about the dangers of blindly supporting the loudest local lobby.

On balance, I believe that Movio’s demise is not a body blow to Mobile TV, nor a significant factor in the DMB v DVB-H debate, but I do believe it provides a very significant opportunity for radio to do something revolutionary in a short window of opportunity. How would it be if DigitalOne was able to let its service providers do something exciting and evolutionary that sparked interest and investment in digital radio and that ultimately made the revenue loss from Mobile TV bareable?

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