A number of competing approaches to mobile television are being demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Broadcasters in 22 cities across the United States have announced plans for mobile television transmissions using the Mobile DTV standard. The Open Mobile Video Coalition faces established competition from Qualcomm and mobile carriers. Meanwhile several separate satellite services are available for a test drive.

The Open Mobile Video Coalition or OMVC is an alliance of broadcasters in the United States. They have declared their intention to launch mobile television across 63 stations in 22 markets, covering 35% of television households in the country. They include affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS and other networks. However, in most of these markets only three stations on average have confirmed deployments this year.

“Broadcasters should be recognized for seizing an opportunity to provide the entertainment and public service benefits of live, local television coverage to mobile consumers,” said David Rehr, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters. “Consumers want to utilize mobile devices to follow news and sports, as well as local, regional and national emergency announcements and other content that they have come to expect from their local television stations. The roll-out of mobile DTV will give them the opportunity to experience all of those benefits.”

The Mobile DTV standard is the result of uncharacteristic collaboration between Korean companies LG and Samsung. Local television stations see it as a way to reach an audience when they are away from home. The ATSC M/H Mobile DTV standard uses an internet protocol data stream within the broadcast channel carrying MPEG-4 AVC video at 416×240 resolution with HE-AAC audio with the option of downloading other data. On the downside, the UHF receivers are likely to require an extendable antenna.

Sample services are being demonstrated on eight channels in Las Vegas. LG is showing reception on a mobile phone, a music player, a portable DVD player, and a dongle receiver for personal computers. In car systems will also be available from other manufacturers. The first devices are expected to be on sale by the end of 2009.

However, the rival Qualcomm MediaFLO system is already operational in many markets, supported by mobile phones from AT&T and Verizon. In vehicle systems are expected this year. The subscription service offers a range of channels on a national basis. One possibility is that dual mode devices will allow reception of both local stations using Mobile DTV and subscription channels available from the MediaFLO system.

AT&T is also partnering with RaySat Broadcasting to launch their CruiseCast in-vehicle entertainment system, based on a line-up of around 20 satellite delivered television channels as well as 20 satellite radio music channels. Unlike the Sirius-XM backseat television system which currently offers just three children’s channels, the system will require a low-profile satellite antenna developed by RaySat to receive conventional high power satellite signals. It buffers up to three minutes of signals to minimise loss of programming when a vehicle loses line of sight with the satellite.

The system will be sold and installed through car dealerships and accessory companies. Car rental company Avis Budget Group plans to offer it as an option in certain areas from the second quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, ICO Global Communications and Alcatel-Lucent are demonstrating the ICO mim or mobile interactive media service, delivering 10-15 live television channels, interactive navigation and two-way communications to mobile and portable devices through a hybrid satellite and terrestrial network.

Using the largest commercial satellite launched to date, with coverage of the entire United States, transmissions from the ICO G1 spacecraft will be supplemented by a terrestrial network. It uses the DVB-SH standard developed in Europe but could also allow reception of local Mobile DTV signals.

The system is currently being demonstrated in Las Vegas. A dual view display from Delphi Corporation allows a front seat passenger to watch television while the driver can only access navigation, communication and command functions. Also being shown is a portable device developed by Archos.

Mobile television has received a mixed reception so far and has failed to live up to the expectations of some. The killer application could well turn out to be for in car entertainment, for front and back seat passengers, as well as recreational vehicles and boats. Satellite radio has already seen substantial success in the United States. Mobile television could turn out to be even more popular.

“Americans have an insatiable demand for video and mobility, and ICO’s trials are focused on validating a compelling nationwide service offering,” said Tim Bryan, chief executive officer of ICO.

Olivier Coste, chairman of mobile broadcast for Alcatel-Lucent added that with the combination of satellite and terrestrial transmission, “mobile TV now works everywhere a user might roam; tomorrow, this service will be as ubiquitous as radio is today”.

A full report on Satellite to Mobile: Television and radio broadcasting, outlining the prospects for such services, is available from informitv.