AT&T is to launch its mobile broadcast TV service this Sunday, with a couple of new handsets to receive it and coverage in 58 markets including all the usual suspects.
The service will be much like Verizon's V Cast Mobile TV service, not least because both are using Qualcomm's MediaFLO service to deliver broadcast video to handsets without touching the cellular infrastructure.
Broadcasting video is great as long as everyone wants to watch the same thing at the same time, which explains AT&T's focus on News channels - they'll be providing both NBC News and CNN Mobile. It's harder to understand the provision of Sony Pictures movie channel PIX, as it's still difficult to imagine anyone sitting down to watch a film on a mobile phone, especially without access to a "pause" button.
AT&T is going to be charging punters $15 a month for access to ten channels - PC Magazine has a detailed breakdown of the content, and a comparison with Verizon's equivalent.
The handsets, which will also be launched on Sunday, are the LG View and Samsung Access, though the company claims lots more handsets will be available soon - but that's what they always say, and the reality will depend on how popular the service proves to be.
Qualcomm is pouring money into MediaFLO; it licensed the frequencies, provides the servers, and owns the IPR. It's a long-term investment that could reap huge rewards, and not much more than Nokia have been doing with DVB-H, for identical reasons.
Part of the problem is that launching a handset without a service makes little sense, but launching a service without handsets already in the market means AT&T is going to struggle to find viewers for a while at least. Nokia is addressing this by sticking DVB-H into its latest high-end handsets in the hope that a launched service will be on a frequency those handsets can receive. Qualcomm doesn't have that luxury, so is instead buying up spectrum and infrastructure to offer operators in exchange for handset subsidies.
In the UK Qualcomm is one of the L-Band bidders, and has made it clear that if they get some spectrum they'll be calling up local partners to see who wants to go with the FLO on this side of the pond. ®