Mobile phone operators plan common platform for TV

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Mobile operators in the UK are in discussions over building a common platform for broadcasting television on to mobile phones. The talks could result in a broadcaster building one network that all participating mobile operators could use.

Mobile operators are keen to free up spectrum currently used for analogue television that would be ideal for broadcasting television on to mobile phones using a technology platform called DVB-H. However that spectrum is not due to be available for commercial use until 2012. Countries such as Germany, Italy and Korea already have firm plans in place for offering DVB-H services, giving rise to fears that the UK could fall behind its rivals.

O2, whose chief executive is Peter Erskine, has been the most active operator in the UK after successfully testing DVB-H services in Oxford in conjunction with the broadcaster Arqiva. The companies broadcast a variety of channels to trial users equipped with Nokia phones. O2 has since been lobbying the telecoms industry regulator, Ofcom, to free up spectrum as early as 2008, so that commercial services can be deployed at a national level.

In Germany, the telecoms regulator has freed up spectrum for a single DVB-H network, and operators in the region, including O2 and Vodafone, trialled the platform during the World Cup. Operators fear that if spectrum is not made available soon, the UK will not have a digital network in place by the time of the London Olympics in 2012.

Most operators already offer mobile television, but the various technology platforms that are being used are not considered the most cost-effective way to broadcast television content. Some operators in the UK, including Orange and 3 UK, offer television services which require the streaming of content over third-generation, or 3G, networks. Orange has added a Sky package to its offering, meaning users can access up to 30 channels.

Such services use large amounts of capacity and picture quality can deteriorate if too many users stream the content at the same time. Broadcasting TV to mobiles solves this problem as the content is delivered over a different frequency.

This month Virgin Mobile launched a broadcast TV service using the BT Movio network. However, this service uses the DAB platform and offers a limited number of channels.

A spokesman for Orange said the company is open to considering DVB-H as an alternative to other mobile TV platforms if it offers a better customer experience and a more cost-effective method for broadcasting content.