Mobile TV on the Luas

8 Mar 2007

The desperate dash to make it home for the latest episode of The Sopranos could soon be a thing of the past as the first ever testing of broadcast TV on mobile phones in Ireland has begun.

O2 is running the trial in partnership with Arqiva, a specialist in TV and wireless transmission systems. It’s the most extensive such trial yet undertaken by the O2’s parent the Telefonica Group, according to Gerry McQuaid, commercial director with O2 Ireland.

Since Monday, 350 O2 customers have been supplied with mobile handsets that can access programmes the same way as on the TV in their living room. Currently, 13 channels are available during the trial, including RTE1, RTE2, TV3, TG4, Sky Sports, Sky News, Setanta Sports and The Discovery Channel.

Additional music and games channels are also available, as O2 wants to test the interactive features of the mobile TV service. There is scope to add more niche programming as part of the trial period, added McQuaid.

The trial was launched on the Luas Green Lline yesterday and the digital picture quality was consistently good, even on a moving tram. The handset, a Nokia N92, has a large screen and stereo audio features. A multi-directional button allows users to control the volume and to flick easily between channels. It’s intended that participants will use the device as their regular mobile phone during the trial.

The N92 is a high-end (and high-priced) device but O2 officials said that there is likely to be a wider range of handsets available to consumers when the service is commercially rolled out, likely to be some time late next year.

Testing is due to last until 31 August although there is scope to extend this, as O2’s trial broadcast licence is valid for a further six months after that.

The trial uses Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld (DVB-H), a technology standard that works like traditional digital terrestrial TV, meaning that the signal is not affected regardless of how many people are using it simultaneously. It is one of many competing standards for broadcast TV over mobile but it is the most commonly used in Europe.

The test period will be used to provide the network operator with a range of information and customer feedback, such as when consumers like to use the service, for how long and what kinds of content they prefer watching.

“One of the things we’re going to learn in the trial is how to price this,” added Shay Hamilton, mobile TV manager with O2 Ireland. There are three possible pricing options: the first would involve basic and premium services, similar to the model used for digital TV. A second is a bundled tariff that could involve a mix of TV service and a set amount of calls and texts for a set price. The third option might involve offering customers buying ‘bite-sized’ amounts of TV, such as an hour per day.

O2 did not disclose the amount of money involved in the trial but it is understood to have invested more than a million euro – considerably more than if it had restricted it to a technology trial only.

O2 UK and Arqiva previously conducted a trial of broadcast mobile TV in Oxford, which found that 72pc of trialists indicated they would take up the service within 12 months if it was made commercially available.

By Gordon Smith