Ahead of next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, MetroPCS and Samsung have issued a joint announcement confirming that both companies are working together to launch the first Android smartphone with support for the ATSC M/H terrestrial broadcast standard which was ratified in 2010.
The phone will be the first phone in the US to ship with the capability to watch terrestrial digital TV broadcasts after the initial plan to launch and ratify mobile television broadcasts was first announced in 2008. Those efforts went dormant after Qualcomm’s attempts to launch its own mobile television service, MediaFLO, until Qualcomm decided to transition away from the initiative after years of losses and low subscriber counts. That shutdown culminating in the sale of the 700MHz spectrum previously used for MediaFLO to AT&T, late last month.
The service will be powered by the Dyle consortium of broadcasters with service and coverage over more than half of the total population in the US through 72 stations in 32 markets, with initial launch markets to consist of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, Tampa, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Orlando, Portland, Cincinnati, Greenville, West Palm Beach, Birmingham and Knoxville, Tennessee.
Mobile television in the US has had a history of stops, starts and stillborn product development going all the way back to 2007 when carriers such as Sprint and AT&T were testing everything from MediaFLO to standard ATSC transceivers to 3G streaming and even the Euro/Asian preferred DVB-H broadcast standards before eventually settling on 3G streaming and MediaFLO respectively, which had their own set of issues such as poor video quality, high costs for both data services and additional monthly fees for subscriptions, which led to low adoption rates and high maintenance costs for carriers.
Qualcomm’s MediaFLO ended up being launched by Verizon in 2008 followed by AT&T in 2009 and was plagued by low customer adoption rates and high costs, as the service required both a data plan and an additional monthly subscription fee. To add to the confusion, while the services launched by Verizon and AT&T were the same on the technical and hardware level, both carriers had their own set of exclusive channels on the service, which did little more than annoy users and customers in practice and was done in order to drive customers to each respective service with the promise of exclusive content.
In a last ditch effort to make its service marketable to consumers during 2009-2010 before its eventual decision to kill the service and sell the spectrum, Qualcomm even attempted to sell its own hardware for MediaFLO which was manufactured by HTC and spent millions on a failed marketing blitz which included heavy sponsorship during sporting events, heavy spending on commercials during events such as ESPN’s X Games and NFL football games, even going as far as having former NFL on Fox commentator James Brown tout Qualcomm’s failed MediaFLO Mobile TV as being perfect for watching football on the go during CES in 2010.
While the adoption of mobile television using existing standards and technology may prove to be a key difference from other failed initiatives, Metro’s attempt will need to take lessons from MediaFLO if it actually intends for the service to be successful.
It has already made the wise move of deploying it with an Android handset, which raises the possibility of it being equipped with LTE, but it must also price access inline with the average monthly bill per customer on the carrier keeping in mind that its own plans go no higher than $60 a month before additional fees for more profitable add-ons. Should this attempt to launch mobile television in the US prove successful, the larger carriers may take notice and decide to develop their own products around Mobile DTV, especially as carriers look to move as much data intensive activity off of increasingly strained data networks to other alternatives.
The new service and phone will be demonstrated next week at the Consumer Electronics Show from the 10th-13th.