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Amid a bunch of Qualcomm announcements at the Mobile World Congress event today, the wireless chip company announced today an upgrade in the technology behind its FLO TV mobile broadcast network.
Qualcomm said it has developed FLO-EV, an evolution of the existing MediaFLO technology which allows it to air its FLO TV wireless digital television broadcasts in scores of U.S. cities. The new technology will allow Qualcomm to launch mobile TV service in international markets.
The FLO-EV technology helps lower the costs of deploying mobile TV in a region and expands the number of TV channels that can be offered.
Qualcomm has already sunk a lot of money into its FLO technology and this investment means that the company is doubling down on the wager. But competition is emerging in the U.S. So Qualcomm has to keep investing in the technology. The new FLO-EV technology can lower costs by an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent, raise the quality of video delivered, reduce power consumption in devices that receive the TV signals, and allow for rapid channel changing and a 50 percent increase in channel capacity.
All of those things will help Qualcomm offer a more compelling FLO TV service. In the case of FLO, Qualcomm offers both the hardware infrastructure and the mobile digital TV service as well. In the U.S., Qualcomm actually operates the FLO TV service. But others could license the technology and offer their own services in a variety of countries around the world, as Qualcomm brings up the infrastructure.
It remains to be seen if FLO TV, which Qualcomm has been trying to kick start since 2005, will take off. The company doesn’t say exactly how many people are using the service on the Verizon and AT&T phone networks, but it does say the number of subscribers is in the millions. Bill Stone, president of the FLO TV division, said recently that the service will also generate advertising revenue over time.
If all goes as planned, the market could be big. ABI Research estimates mobile TV will have 43 million subscribers by 2013.
One of the advantages that FLO TV has is its higher video quality. The older FLO TV can squeeze 20 channels into its bandwidth — which was previously the UHF channel 55 — and there is no buffering or lag time that frustrates users of most cell phone video services.
Any FLO TV-enabled device (including Qualcomm phone models on the Verizon and AT&T networks as well as the dedicated Personal Television) can pull the TV programming in over the air from Qualcomm’s digital broadcast network. They don’t, therefore, need to have a specific dedicated video stream sent from one place on a network to another. It is a one-to-many technology, not one-to-one. That’s the problem with current video services that are sent over cell phone networks. When the connections have to be made on a one-to-one basis, it’s easy to overwhelm the networks. That’s because video often consumer about 100 times more data networking bandwidth than a simple phone call.
On average, viewers watch FLO TV for 30 minutes a day while commuting, sitting at their desks, or waiting in line. The service is available in more than 100 U.S. cities now.