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Qualcomm Plans Mobile TV Offensive

Qualcomm Inc. said it will launch its proprietary MediaFLO mobile TV technology in the U.S. this year with an eye toward making it an international standard.

CANNES, France — Qualcomm Inc. said it will launch its proprietary MediaFLO mobile TV technology in the U.S. this year with an eye toward making it an international standard.

The move, announced at this week's 3GSM World Congress here, pits Qualcomm (San Diego) against the European DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld) and T-DMB (Terrestrial-Digital Mobile Broadcast) specs.

Jeffery Lorbeck, vice president and general manager for MediaFLO at Qualcomm, told EE Times that MediaFLO has attracted a surprising amount of interest from European operators. "We are not sure if this is just a due-diligence thing, but we are listening," he said.

Qualcomm is assembling an industry consortium around the technology, said Lorbeck. The next step is to submit its technolgy to a standards organization for approval as an international spec.

Armed with MediaFLO and 700 MHz of spectrum won in a 2003 U.S. spectrum auction, Qualcomm is set to become wholesale distributor of a U.S. "mediacast" network. Late last fall, it established a subsidiary called MediaFLO USA to help third-generation cellular network operators deliver low-cost, high-quality audio and video programs to consumers.

Qualcomm's next objective is the European market. Claiming there is nothing within its technology specifically tied to its proprietary CDMA technology, Omar Javaid, senior director of international business for MediaFLO, said, "We have global ambitions."

Javid called competing DVB-H and T-DMB technologies "not bad" for bringing TV to mobiles, but added, "Those other technologies are mobile extensions of existing terrestrial standards. They carry legacies. They have issues with power, mobility and air interfaces."

Qualcomm began MediaFLO development two and half years ago "from a clean slate, with lots of modern enhancements," said Javid. Such improvements include adoption of Turbo codes — which deliver a gain of 1 to 2 dB — and a layered modulation scheme for graceful degradation of mobile TV reception. Besides real-time streaming capabilities, MediaFLO also offers "clip casting" that sends files in the background during off-peak hours and caches them on a device.

Qualcomm's Lorbeck said, "I am sure if a company like Nokia threw in their brightest engineers to develop a brand new [TV-on-mobile] technology, they would have come up with something very similar to our FLO technology." Lorbeck described MediaFLO as an optimal mediacast network technology "without the constraints of the underlying network."

Qualcomm said it developed the entire MediaFLO food chain, including chip sets, software and network architecture.

That's not necessarily good news for rivals. Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.), said Qualcomm has the credibility to run a network because of its experience with its Omnitrack system for tracking truck fleets. "But it's yet another proprietary technology that nobody else is going to play with," added Strauss, referring to CDMA technology which created virtually no silicon market for chip vendors other than Qualcomm.

If MediaFLO enjoys any critical advantage, it's simplicity. MediaFLO was designed specifically for cellular network operators, with no TV or radio broadcasters involved. DVB-H-based mobile TV services initially depend on two separate networks — terrestrial broadcast and mobile networks. This dual-network structure may trouble mobile network operators who want a large, straightforward return on their investment. "MediaFLO offers TV-like functions but it's not a TV broadcast," claimed Javid.

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