Mobile World Congress Orange and T-Mobile are to try broadcast TV in London, using MBMS technology over the existing 3G infrastructure to provide 24 channels of video and ten of audio, all at "high resolution". The companies will try this out for six months to see if the service can be made economic.
Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service (MBMS) is part of the 3G standard, but deployments are few and far between as little equipment currently supports it. The broadcast signal is sent out as one stream from the server, and that stream is then split repeatedly until one stream arrives at each base station from which it is broadcast. By using existing 3G infrastructure the deployment costs should be much lower than, say, DVB-H, though deployments of the latter technology are much less likely to piss off the EU who have heavily endorsed DVB-H.
Orange, T-Mobile and O2 all own unused chunks of 3G spectrum which was intended for TDD (Time Division Duplex) services that never got deployed, so they are desperate to do something with it. Broadcast TV would fit nicely, especially if they can avoid paying for new infrastructure.
Whether customers will pay to watch mobile TV is still unproven. Global figures published today from M:Metrics show the number of ex-viewers is growing faster than the total market (69 per cent, against 36 per cent growth) with disenchanted punters citing low quality and unreliable reception as motivation to switch off. Price, though, is another factor.
The latest trials will cover an unspecified area of West London, and obviously won't extend into the one area where it could be useful: the London underground. ®