Cingular signs on for Qualcomm mobile TV

The biggest U.S. cellular company, AT&T Inc.'s Cingular division, will launch mobile TV using Qualcomm Inc.'s MediaFLO technology later this year.

Starting in the fourth quarter, Cingular will offer multiple channels of live TV with the technology, which will use a dedicated network and leave carriers' valuable cellular frequencies alone. Verizon Wireless Inc., the country's second-largest mobile operator by subscribers, has already committed to using MediaFLO.

The announcement capped several days of good news for MediaFLO as the mobile industry gathers at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona. With its TV system, Qualcomm is going up against some of the same rivals it challenged with CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access), its alternative to the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) standard. Rival Nokia Corp. and many other vendors are pushing another mobile TV technology, DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld). Not to be left out, Qualcomm also is developing a chip that will support both technologies as well as others.

Also Monday, Qualcomm announced completion of a second trial of MediaFLO with British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. Last week, the mobile technology company unveiled programming deals with the U.S. TV networks CBS, NBC and Fox as well as cable entertainment company MTV and sports network ESPN.

The service is designed to work like traditional TV, with shows that go out to all subscribers at the same time. The signals come from a tower that can cover most of a city, and channels can be dedicated to local programming. Both MediaFLO and DVB-H require handsets with special chips in addition to whatever cellular system they use. In the U.S., Qualcomm's MediaFLO division is building a network that uses frequencies that had been dedicated to analog TV. The TV stations are gradually being moved off the spectrum.

Cingular has not yet determined how many channels will be offered on its service, but spokesman Mark Siegel said at least two will be exclusive to the carrier. Cingular's MediaFLO service will also include audio offerings and a datacasting application for real-time information and entertainment. It will complement the carrier's current video-on-demand services. Pricing has not been set, and Siegel would not comment on handsets for the service.

Verizon, which committed to using MediaFLO in late 2005, plans to launch a MediaFLO service by the end of March. It had earlier predicted the service would be up by the end of 2006. Verizon has identified two handsets for its service, the Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. SCH-u620 and LG Electronics Inc. VX9400. At launch, Verizon expects the MediaFLO network to reach about 75 million people, spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.