Consumers in the UK can soon join others across Europe and Asia able to view television beamed to their mobile phones.
On 1 October Virgin Mobile, a unit of NTL, will launch this country's first broadcast mobile TV and radio service, based on BT's new BT Movio platform, the companies announced yesterday.
The service will initially offer BBC 1, ITV1, a cut-down version of Channel 4 for mobile phones and Channel 4's E4 entertainment channel. Customers on a Virgin Mobile contract of £25 or more per month will receive the service for free, while others can purchase it for £5 per month. HTC is providing the first phone for viewing the service, the Lobster 700, for £199.
The UK launch comes as manufacturers and network operators in Europe battle over a standard for broadcast mobile TV services.
Europe's first service, based on a standard called T-DMB (terrestrial-digital multimedia broadcasting), was launched commercially at the start of the World Cup tournament in June by mobile phone service reseller Debitel and Mobiles Fernsehen.
But Germany's four mobile operators back a rival standard, DVB-H (digital video broadcast-handset), which they claim offers more channels and better quality.
The availability of spectrum was the main reason that German state broadcasting authorities gave the green light for T-DMB, based on the DAB (digital audio broadcasting) standard, ahead of DVB-H.
The situation in the UK is similar. DAB is the only broadcast spectrum currently available to mobile operators. BT's mobile TV platform, BT Movio, is something of a novelty, blending DAB with IP technology. It's one of two standards that support mobile TV on DAB spectrum: DAB-IP and T-DMB.
BT selected DAB-IP not only because of DAB's available spectrum, but also because of its flexibility, according to a BT document. The IP layer in DAB is common to the IP used in other technologies, such as the rival broadcast system DVB-H and systems that stream TV including 3G (third-generation) mobile broadband, Wi-Fi and WiMax, according to the document. This means DAB-IP back-end systems, which encode, manage and deliver content, can be re-used for any IP-carrying bearer – whether broadcast T-DMB or streamed 3G.
With the continuing debate around standards, BT believes the eventual winner will be a combination of standards and technologies. With BT Movio, the UK operator has designed a platform designed to offer a consistent service over new broadcast standards as they evolve and come to market, it said.
The BT Movio platform also uses DRM (digital rights management) technology from Microsoft.