What happens in Vegas, shouldn’t stay in Vegas

Mobile TV is starting to take off. As networks get faster, phones get smarter, and consumers become more demanding, mobile tv may become the central front in the mobile market wars. So, not surprisingly, the Consumer Electronics Association Conference in Vegas next month will be a hot show on this subject.

ICO Global and Alcatel-Lucent will demonstrate a new standard in mobile broadcasting – Digital Video Broadcasting, satellite to handhelds (DVB-SH).

In the demonstration, ICO and Alcatel-Lucent will deliver mobile high-resolution live television programming to display terminals located in a moving vehicle outfitted with DVB-SH receivers. In addition, ICO will demonstrate high-resolution DVB-SH video reception by delivering pre-encoded content to portable monitors in ICO’s exhibit suite at the Venetian hotel. ICO and Alcatel-Lucent will also be demonstrating at the CES “ShowStoppers” press event on Monday, January 7 from 6:00 until 10:00 pm at the Wynn Hotel.

These standards-based demonstrations are the first displays of the cutting-edge solution being developed for the ICO alpha trial of mobile interactive media (mim) services, which will take place in 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

The ICO mim™ product is a converged mobile media service that addresses a wide variety of consumers’ entertainment, information, and two-way communication needs: live and stored mobile TV in vehicles, interactive navigation, and roadside assistance, all with nationwide coverage. ICO mim will provide multiple channels of high-quality mobile video to portable, larger-screen (4.5 to 10 inch) user devices.

Last spring, ICO announced agreements with Alcatel-Lucent and Hughes Network Systems (Hughes) to develop key architecture and technology for use in ICO’s alpha trial based on ICO’s next-generation geostationary satellite (ICO G1) and the deployment of an Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) using the mobile multimedia DVB-SH open standard. ICO G1 is scheduled for launch in March 2008, and the alpha trial will take place in Raleigh-Durham and Las Vegas after the launch of ICO G1.

SES AMERICOM’s IP-PRIME service is providing the programming for this test, along with another test at the Las Vegas conference—Hiwire—this one using Digital Video Broadcasting to handheld (DVB-H, see image). This will utilize the 700mhz spectrum through Aloha Partners – the largest licensee of this spectrum in the country. It promises to have “the largest channel lineup of high-quality multicast television mobile TV ever trialed with consumers anywhere around the globe. The trial will also deliver up to three times as many channels as any similar mobile TV network in the United States, giving consumers the depth of programming that satisfies their appetite for TV.” The programming:

Hiwire will leverage Aloha Partners’ sizable 700 MHz spectrum capacity to deliver this unprecedented channel lineup of high-quality, full-frame rate TV to consumers. The channel lineup, procured by SES AMERICOM, includes top, leading programmers and networks, with seven channels from Discovery Communications (including Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Discovery Kids and Discovery’s dedicated mobile network, Discovery Mobile), six channels from MTV Networks (including CMT, COMEDY CENTRAL, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike TV and VH1), two channels from Turner Broadcasting – CNN Mobile Live and Cartoon Networks/Adult Swim Mobile, Anime Network, E!, Fox News Channel, Travel Channel, The Weather Channel, MavTV and AccuWeather.com. The parties are in discussions to add other programming services as well which will be finalized prior to the consumer launch, scheduled to begin this month.

So, should carriers move towards DVB-SH or DVB-H? Europe is already having the debate:

But can DVB-SH gain traction? It has struggled to find support among handset vendors, especially as DVB-H, the only globally used mobile TV standard, is backed by an industry consortium that includes Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Motorola. In a controversial move, the EU has also recently endorsed DVB-H as its mobile TV tech standard of choice and has placed the technology on its list of “official standards.” Starting in February, member states will be required to support its use and implementation—though this doesn’t mean they have to ban other standards.

There’s also a question on whether its use may be more costly. As Reuters (NSDQ: RTRSY) reports, in Europe there is a current shortage of spectrum for mobile TV, which means the telecoms industry—just as Alcatel Luncent has done—has been looking at higher frequencies. DVB-SH sits just above current 3G airwaves. But these higher frequencies are usually costlier since the higher the frequency, the shorter the distance radio signals travel, meaning operators have to build denser networks. Rival DVB-H standard uses much lower frequencies, the same as traditional television’s UHF band.

This will be just part of the fun at the CES show next month. Check out the “March of the CES Press Releases.” Perhaps a clip from Laurel & Hardy’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers” is appropriate: