Friday, September 7, 2007

Why DVB-H/DMB can easily kill 3GPP, and why it should not

I get the impression that most cellular service providers are pitching video-on-mobile as the next must-have application. After the tepid response to 2.5G web-on-mobile in general, this may be the next use case for the expensive spectrum cellular service providers licensed at the beginning of the century.

The idea is to use, say, 3G WCDMA networks to do the following
1. For the basic service, broadcast popular content to users. 3GPP-MBMS supports such broadcasting.
2. For the premium service, unicast VOD content to users. 3GPP-MBMS also supports such unicasting.

Can service operators win the mobile video game? I say no.
Why? Simply because there is formidable competition from terrestrial digital video broadcast technologies likeDVB-H/DMB. And right now it looks more likely that DVB-H/DMB are going to win.

DVB-H/DMB broadcasting has its roots in technologies like DVB-T, a digital TV broadcasting standard that heavily involved broadcasters. As I write this, mobile device manufacturers are already working directly with broadcasters to put the electronics of DVB-H/DMB into mobile devices, leaving service providers out of the equation. The benefit of DVB-H/DMB is that the bandwidth comes cheap, its like TV signals in the air. Service operators however, have paid a lot for the spectrum 3GPP-MBMS uses. Hence, 3GPP cannot be as attractively priced as DVB-H/DMB. In addition, DVB-H/DMB has a 2 year technology lead over 3GPP - I saw many Samsung Ultra's at the IFA last week touting built-in DVB-H and/or DMB decoders.

So then the question becomes, can 3GPP's main advantage compared to DVB-H/DMB - Unicast VOD - become the saviour of service providers?

I again say no. VOD on mobiles is a very long shot. When I am on the subway, I need to shut my mind and get entertained-something DVB-H/DMB does very well. I just like watching TV. I have my Apple iPod for VOD.

The second pitfall for 3GPP is content. Where is the content and who controls it? Somehow, in all the excitement about new delivery platforms, service providers often forget that the delivery platform is less important and content is more important. And in content, broadcasters (who support DVB-H/DMB) have way more experience and relationsips with the content providers. Hey, service providers were just selling voice for the past 100 years.

So is it all over for 3GPP? Raise the white flag and kill the video-over-cellular dream?

I again say no . Just raise the white flag and think.

There are plenty of things that can be done

  1. Targeted video advertising, in full cooperation with the DVB-H/DMB folks: 3GPP gives us the ability to unicast, and that can be translated into targetting video ad overlays. Another major advantage that can be exploited is that 3GPP technology knows the recipient of te content unlike DVB-H/DMB and can therefore support targetted advertisements. The cellular service providers and DVB-H/DMB folks should chalk out technology to multiplex targetted advertisements streamed over the formers' network with the content streamed over the latters network.
  2. Premium services, again in full cooperation with the DVB-H/DMB folks: I am thinking time shifting funcationality for DVB-H/DMB content. I missed the first 5 minutes of a TV soap because I was buying the subway ticket. Can 3GPP help me download that?

Talk people, talk.