LG Mobile Phones at CTIA WIRELESS 2008
Bob Riha Jr.  /  AP
LG's 'Vu' cell phone, which will offer mobile television content and sporting events in May, got a showing at the CTIA Wireless 2008 show in Las Vegas. So far, mobile TV hasn't lived up to the hype. Will 2008 be its year?
updated 4/3/2008 10:55:01 AM ET 2008-04-03T14:55:01

Is TV on cell phones finally ready for its close-up?

After a year or so of hype, and disappointing initial results, several new efforts are being launched to make what has been dubbed the “third screen,” behind television and computers, more of a reality.

Some of the mobile TV initiatives were announced this week during CTIA-The Wireless Association industry trade group meeting in Las Vegas.

So far, U.S. users haven’t shown a great interest or willingness to pay for TV on their cell phones.

Calls and data —text messaging, e-mailing of messages, photos and videos, as well as Web surfing — remain higher priorities for most users.

Revenue from such data services in 2007 totaled more than $23 billion, a 53 percent increase over 2006, CTIA said this week, sharing the results of an industry survey.

Those dollars, spent on “non-voice services,” equal about 17 percent of all wireless service revenues.”

“There are more mobile e-mail accounts in the U.S. than there are in Europe,” said Avi Greengart, Current Analysis’ research director for wireless devices. “Text messaging was much more popular in Europe than in the U.S., but now the U.S. outpaces Europe for text messaging, as well.”

It’s a different story when it comes to mobile TV on cell phones. There, Japan and South Korea are among the countries leading the way.

In order for it to flourish in North America, ABI Research has suggested, flat-rate plans would be a plus for consumers, in contrast to standard subscription plans.

“Consumers are being increasingly enticed by better experiences through more powerful and larger (cell phone) screens, as well as by a widening array of subscription options,” said Michael Wolf of ABI Research in a report earlier this year.

New offerings coming
Verizon Wireless introduced its V Cast Streaming Video service last year, featuring entertainment, news, sports and weather. Depending on the flavor of the service you want, the subscription cost is $15 or $25 a month on top of the monthly bill.

Choices include V Cast Basic Video, with CNN, YouTube, ESPN and “90-plus channels,” and ESPN MVP, with “the latest sports clips —on demand,” as well as “live gamecasts and exclusive ESPN programming,” according to Verizon Wireless’ Web site.

With the average monthly cell phone bill hovering around $50, according to CTIA, and consumers tightening their belts, such extra add-ons may have limited appeal. (Verizon Wireless does offer 24-hour usage of V Cast for a charge of $3.)

Among the mobile TV-related announcements made during CTIA, and in the days leading up to it:

  • AT&T will offer mobile TV services to customers who have the Vu phone from LG, and the Access from Samsung, starting in May. Cost of the services was not shared. The company said it will announce the pricing when the service launches.
  • Sony plans to offer the first movie network on mobile phones in the U.S., providing the PIX channel to AT&T and MediaFlo USA, a unit of Qualcomm Inc. Among the titles to be offered: “Memento,” “Resident Evil” and “Philadelphia.”
  • Fox Mobile Entertainment announced its Fox Entertainment Mobile Network as a mobile Web portal. Content from FOX, FX, SPEED, the National Geographic channel and Fox’s Reality Channel is available at the site.

Whether these efforts pay off remains to be seen — literally.

Now, this really matters
While mobile TV is not a reality yet for many cell phone users, having trouble making calls from inside the home is.

From the category of “most intriguing and useful” at CTIA came word that a creation called a “femtocell” may help with the problem.

The device, which looks like a router, can improve cell phone coverage indoors. Right now, Sprint Nextel is using femtocells in Denver, Indianapolis and Nashville.

A femtocell costs a customer $50, but many might consider it the best money they ever spent when it comes to the “Can you hear me now?” and dropped-call frustration inside houses, condos and apartments across America.

Among other news:

  • Web giants Amazon and Yahoo unveiled programs that will make it easier for shoppers and users to get what they need by comparison shopping with a few taps on their keypad (Amazon), and do a Web search using voice (Yahoo).
  • Verizon Wireless and MySpace announced there will be direct access to MySpace’s Mobile Web site from cell phones that use the network’s Mobile Web 2.0 service, rather than having to use a phone’s tiny keyboard to type in the URL.
  • And, social networking is doing well in the mobile world. Research in Motion said that there have been more than 1 million downloads of Facebook for the popular BlackBerry.
  • Expect not only the mobile search engine competition to continue to be heated among Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, but also the fight for the best mobile Web browser. The newest version of Opera Mini, a mobile version of the Opera Web browser, was announced this week, and Bitstream unveiled its third generation of ThunderHawk.

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