Modeo launches DVB-H mobile video service in NYC

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Move over MediaFLO, there’s a new mobile video service in town. Well, sort of. Modeo, a division of Crown Castle International, had its official coming out party last night in Manhattan, launching a trial of the service in the New York City area that will deliver video at 30 frames per second over the air to cellphones and other devices outfitted with a DVB-H receive chip. The problem? At this point the technology works (SVG has a demo unit and reception is solid all around town) but the company doesn’t have any deals with a cellular service provider to offer it as a commercial service.

Michael Ramke, Modeo president, says he isn’t concerned with the lack of a deal. He points out that Qualcomm’s deal to offer MediaFLO over both AT&T and Verizon shows that there is market demand for mobile video services and that the market is obviously big enough for two competitors. “That’s especially true when you realize that the market extends to other hand-held devices like PDAs, portable game systems and other media players,” he says.

As for the service it offers six video channels: MSNBC, Fox News Channel, E! Entertainment, Discovery Channel, CNBC and Fox News. It also has eight Music Choice channels. Approximately 200 users are participating in the most recent round of testing.

In a very non-scientific study to see how much of a delay there is between watching a channel like MSNBC on the TV versus watching it on the Modeo phone (built by HTC) we encountered our first surprise: the phone video service was actually about 15 seconds ahead of Time Warner Cable.

In terms of video and audio quality the service performed well as we roamed the streets of Manhattan. Video quality was strong enough so that tickers running on all three news channels were easily legible.

The advantage both Modeo and Qualcomm will find in the marketplace is that they are very straightforward to use, unlike traditional cellular video services that require diving deep into a menu. Modeo’s service, for example, is fired up with the push of a button on the phone that looks like a remote control. It brings up an on-screen Electronic Programming Guide that can be scanned by time and date (it replicates a cable TV channel guide) and the user can also program alerts to go off when a certain program is beginning.

The live streaming is only one of three types of programming the service will eventually offer. Ramke also envisions a service that can create customized channels, where Modeo pushes out hundreds of small clips and the user subscribes to certain clips like sports highlights and weather reports. And the service will also eventually incorporate PVR functionality, recording favorite shows for offline viewing.

Modeo also has an advantage when it comes to rolling out its service across the country. Because Crown Castle International owns it it has access to the tens of thousands of Crown Castle cellular towers across the country. DVB-H transmitters will be installed at some of those towers (the New York City area, for example, is covered with only 65 transmitters that are on less than 5% of the area’s cellular towers) and power levels in urban environments can top out at 20kW while rural areas can hit 40kW.

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