Broadcast mobile TV service, using technology developed in Korea instead of a European-backed system, will kick off next week in Germany just days ahead of the World Cup tournament.
MFD (Mobiles Fernsehen Deutschland) has secured spectrum from local media authorities to broadcast TV signals to mobile phones, using technology based on the DMB (Digital Media Broadcasting) standard. MFD will collaborate with mobile phone service provider Debitel to offer commercial service from 31 May in a number of cities, including eight of the 12 hosting the World Cup games, the companies said earlier this week.
Over the past several months, MFD has quietly struck licence deals with several German broadcasting companies, including public broadcaster ZDF, which has the rights to air half of the 96 tournament games. MFD has also deployed infrastructure in the World Cup cities: Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg, Hanover, Munich and Stuttgart.
Mobile phone manufacturers have been gunning to use the World Cup games – one of the world's biggest media events – to promote mobile TV. But two rival standards, DMB and DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld), have split the industry.
The DMB standard, which evolved from the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) standard, is being pushed by South Korean manufacturers. LG was the first company to offer a mobile TV phone based on the DMB format. At the CeBit trade show in Germany last year, a mobile TV demonstration featured a DMB-based phone from Samsung.
But DMB is being challenged by DVB-H, which was approved by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute in late 2004. The standard is backed by numerous European media authorities and some of the world's largest handset makers, including Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Siemens and Sony Ericsson.
While the DVB-H camps claim more channels and greater efficiency, the frequency spectrums for the technology aren't currently available on a nationwide basis in many European countries including Germany. That's a problem because it could take a few years for these to open up.
By contrast, DMB uses different spectrum that is available, and that's essentially why MFD chose it – to get a jump on the competition.
The company plans to launch two handsets, one each from LG and Samsung, when the service goes live, according to Henrik Rinnert, a co-founder of the mobile TV venture.
Earlier this year, a senior executive from German telco Deutsche Telekom said the mobile phone industry would "miss a shot" at selling new broadcast mobile TV services at the World Cup games in Germany.
Lothar Pauly, a board member of Deutsche Telekom and CEO of the group's IT services subsidiary, T-Systems, said: "The time axis isn't right."
Pauly may be right about the commercial availability of DVB-H service but MFD could prove him dead wrong about DMB.