ABI Research forecasts 514 million will subscribe to the service by 2011, up from 6.4 million last year worldwide. The emerging mobile television market has begun to build momentum, said ABI Research principal analyst Ken Hyers in a report released Wednesday, suggesting ad-supported broadcast services will propel growth.
Three companies plan to introduce mobile video broadcast services in the United States during the next 12 to 18 months. Qualcomm will launch MediaFLO between September and December. Aloha Partners' Hiwire and Crown Castle's Modeo will follow in 2007.
Hyers, however, cautions most markets won't have the ability to support more than two broadcast networks because of the high cost to build them, and many markets only have three or four major mobile operators selling wireless service to subscribers.
Executives admit consumer interest runs mixed when it comes to multimedia-enabled mobile handsets that offer TV content. Motorola Inc. vice president of ecosystem and market development Christy Wyatt says mobile TV isn't about replacing other devices, but rather extending the experience.
"I probably wouldn't sit in my living room and watch my Q, Motorola's new phone, instead of my big LCD screen," Wyatt said. "But on a flight, a bus or in a boring meeting this device lets me take content into new places."
Handsets, such as Motorola's recently introduced Q phone, are helping to move the concept of mobile TV into reality. Frost & Sullivan industry manager for digital media Mukul Krishna suggests other factors are lining up, too. "Apache now runs on cellular phones, networks have the bandwidth to support the content, and codecs and players on handsets now offer decent video on the handset," Krishna said.
Companies are working to connect the in-home digital video recorder with the cellular network, allowing consumers to retrieve and play content from their digital video recorder (DVR) on their cellular phone, Krishna said.
Holding back adoption had been the business model. That means a method to integrate ordering, billing, fulfillment and a content management portal strategy to deliver the goods. Carriers, such as Cingular, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, would also need a way to tie it all back into the DVR.
Still missing, a "wider pipe" to deliver broadcast-quality content to the phone, Krishna said. "You also need a device built into the DVR that would transcode the content into a sufficient frame rate, upload that content to a portal, and then download to the cellular phone."
Carriers and handset manufacturers have the technology to deliver this service, but it's still too expensive. Krishna said other factors include the high risk of piracy and digital rights management (DRM), which tend to make media owners a little uneasy about sharing content between the DVR and the cellular phone.