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 That’s one of the disappointing facets of this event – that an excellent DAB + Mobile Phone combination will be withdrawn from sale, and there are so many of them left in the warehouse.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?

DMB mobile

DVB-H – A European Standard for Mobile TV?

I know it’s slightly bad form to cross-promote one’s own blog, but as I suspected back in March, the European Commission under the (partisan?) guidance of Mme. Reding has decided that DVB-H should be the best way for mobile TV to be broadcast in Europe. Three cheers from… erm… Nokia, I guess. The Finns will be very happy.

WorldDMB has quite correctly pointed out the appalling anomalies in the logic behind the decision, including the apparent blindness to the fact that DAB (Eureka 147) was as much a European funded project as DVB-H ever has been, and is just as competent bearer of mobile TV. Indeed, EBU studies have shown that DMB can be a more cautious and less financially risky way of implementing Mobile TV than DVB-H.

When something unexpected or inexplicable happens, you have to weigh up whether it was more due to cockup or conspiracy. In this case, with Nokia (a “european” company) being the primary benefactor of DVB-H, and Samsung/LG (“korean” companies) producing the majority of DMB handsets, one feels that the evidence weighs towards a European protectionist conspiracy. If it’s a cockup, then really Mme. Reding and her team of well-looked-after advisers might do the decent thing, and move on.

To a certain extent, I am ambivalent about the issue of mobile TV. DMB has been a very good demonstration of how powerful DAB can be, and how it’s more than capable of integration into the mobile handset. But mobile TV consumes an awful lot of spectrum, and in the UK it does so at the expense of spectrum for radio services. DigitalOne is currently 30% full of a TV service that not many people use (admittedly, not DMB, but an altogether more proprietory Microsoft based system), and that’s what’s squeezing out good DAB Digital Radio services on that multiplex. The economics favour mobile TV, which is a very hard issue for radio people to overcome.

Radio is not a very pretty place economically at the moment, and when the mobile TV industry is flush with speculative investment funding, it’s very difficult to argue that the spectrum allocated to radio should be protected and used to create a new radio experience when there’s no guaranteed income or success. It’s arguably more prudent to take the mobile TV funding, and let radio “get by” on what’s left.

I don’t agree with that. I think we are squandering a time-limited opportunity to reinvent radio, and more critically, rejuvenate the revenues that keep radio healthy. Maybe we need a surge of new investment into radio from entrepreneurs keen to build a new business?

dab digital radio mobile

Broadcast Asia (Part 1) – The Future of Advertising?

I was at Broadcast Asia last week, so I’m going to be doing some posts this week about interesting things I saw there. I was primarily there to do a presentation with James on the good and bad things about DAB in the UK, but there was plenty to see at Broadcast Asia and in Singapore generally.

The business of building mobile phone networks appears to be extremely competitive. Last year Nokia and Siemens agreed to merge their two network businesses to create a supplier to rival Lucent/Alcatel, and they were exhibiting for the first time as joint entity at Broadcast Asia. (The branding was more Nokia inspired than Siemens, but that’s probably a good thing).

You would expect a network provider to feature hardware pretty heavily on their stand, and so they did (more to follow on the technology known as MBMS). However, rather unexpectedly there was a pod dedicated to explaining a new network technology aimed at inserting advertising into mobile internet browsing.

My initial thoughts were “oh no, the pop-up comes to mobile”, and certainly the host of the pod was very enthusiastic about the possibilities of injecting advertising, on a targeted basis, into people’s mobile browsing. Given the pressure on margins for the hardware, and the seemingly endless enthusiasm for the advertising model, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise to see such an idea from Nokia Siemens.

On reflection, not only is it an unwelcome idea (from a pure irritation point of view), I think it could be absolutely fatally flawed and call into question some principles that ISPs and Telecoms providers have held very very dear for a long time.

The principle of Common Carrier allows telecoms networks (fixed and mobile) to claim indemnity from the content that they carry – in simple terms, they can’t get into trouble if I send you some content that’s illegal. Whilst that occasionally gets tested at the boundaries, the principle is fairly solid, and it’s what differentiates a Carrier from a Publisher.

But this idea to inject advertising dangerously muddies the waters for the telecoms companies. How can they claim to be a passive carrier of data when they start to actively inspect it in order to insert advertising? And if they start to inspect the content in order to deliver context sensitive advertising, that surely puts them in a very dangerous position of “knowing” what they’re carrying?

What would happen if this idea was applied to DAB Digital Radio networks? The radio station gets a discounted/free transmission network, but now the transmission provider is injecting their own ads in at the transmitter to pay for the network. I’m not sure many radio companies would take that idea seriously – selling their adverts knowing that someone else is going to be inserting adverts too.

I suspect this idea won’t get implemented. Aside from the very fundamental problem of potentially making the network liable for everything that gets passed over it, it will also probably break all those lovely Web 2.0 / AJAX sessions, which will annoy users almost as much as random adverts popping up everywhere. I just remain amazed at how these ideas can get as far as a public exhibition.