Verizon Wireless has signed on as the first cellular carrier that will offer a broadcast TV network for mobile phones that Qualcomm Inc. plans to launch in late 2006.
The companies declined to say Thursday what programming might be featured over the MediaFLO system, which will be broadcast to mobile phones over a different portion of the wireless spectrum than cellular calls and data services.
Cellular operators in a handful of other countries already feature TV from a separate wireless network, using technologies from Qualcomm rivals such as Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. Mobile users in South Korea, one of the most advanced markets, can now watch broadcasts via both satellites and terrestrial towers like those that will be used by Qualcomm.
In the United States, Sprint Nextel Corp. introduced a cable TV-like service on its cellular network two years ago, as did Cingular Wireless more recently. But such services face obstacles: Limited download speeds, even with the faster technologies most carriers are introducing, can impair video quality, and there are limits to how much network capacity a carrier can take away from phone calls and other services to devote to video.
As a result, Verizon Wireless' VCast service and offerings from other carriers have been geared around short clips such as news reports and music videos, shying away from live TV for now.
By contrast, direct broadcast services like those launched overseas and the one planned by Qualcomm can avoid some of those problems by removing the burden from the cellular network. And because these new networks are designed to deliver a signal only one way, to the user, rather than carrying two-way traffic such as calls, they can deliver more video over a swath of the airwaves than a cellular system. (The "FLO" in MediaFLO stands for "Forward Link Only).
When it first announced MediaFLO, Qualcomm said the service was likely to feature a choice of live television channels similar to those offered via cable TV. However, the company has declined to say whether it has struck any deals with content companies to offer specific channels or networks.
The network is being designed to deliver up to 20 live streaming video channels and 10 audio channels, as well as short video clips, across most of the nation using wireless licenses owned by Qualcomm.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC of Britain. Cingular is owned in partnership by AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp.