AT&T Readies MediaFLO Mobile TV

AT&T will launch live mobile TV over the MediaFLO network in May, the carrier announced as the U.S. mobile industry prepared for a CTIA Wireless trade show in Las Vegas next week that is likely to put a big emphasis on entertainment.

The launch of AT&T Mobile TV will come about a year after AT&T's rival, Verizon Wireless, started offering the broadcast TV service. The two largest carriers in the U.S. have both embraced the FLO technology, from U.S. cellular pioneer Qualcomm, even as the European Union rallies around DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld), a standard backed by Nokia and others.

When it announced plans to use MediaFLO in February 2007, AT&T said it would launch the service in the fourth quarter of that year. Its statement on Thursday offered no explanation for the delay.

Qualcomm developed MediaFLO for broadcasting video and information over a network that's separate from the cellular system. MediaFLO USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm, has built a U.S. network that uses former TV channels. Programming is broadcast in real time and can include live events. Leaving that content to a dedicated network frees up cellular capacity for voice and data services. Mobile operators in Europe and Asia also have announced trials of FLO.

AT&T will offer FLO on two new handsets, the Vu from LG Electronics and the Access from Samsung Electronics. Programming will include shows from CBS Mobile, Fox Mobile, NBC 2GO, NBC News2Go, MTV, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV and Nickelodeon, as well as two other channels that will be unique to AT&T, the company said.

In addition to FLO, the LG Vu will include a music player, 2-megapixel camera and Bluetooth. The Samsung Access will have a large landscape display, a camera, support for Bluetooth stereo headsets and other features. AT&T did not provide pricing for the service or handsets.

Verizon's basic channel lineup is the same as AT&T's. That carrier offers a package of eight channels for US$15 per month, and for $25 it throws in the V Cast V Pack, which includes unlimited airtime, e-mail and basic video clips. A limited package costs $13 per month and includes just Fox Mobile, NBC, NBC News and CBS Mobile. On Thursday, Verizon announced two exclusive channels: ESPN Radio and MTV Tr3s, a bilingual TV channel. The Verizon service is available in more than 50 markets across the U.S., according to MediaFLO USA.

Mobile video attracts fewer than 10 percent of all subscribers today, but it has strong potential, said Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin. Lower prices, more content choices and a much wider selection of compatible phones could help it meet its potential. What's available on phones so far is mostly material edited down from TV, but in time, content producers should create shows and clips just for the tiny screen, Golvin said.

The business model for FLO is complicated, involving MediaFLO, content providers and advertisers, with revenue coming from both subscribers and advertisers, Golvin said. AT&T's launch might have been delayed by negotiations that went on longer than expected, he said.

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