Live TV Now on Mobiles

by Sonal Desai    May 10, 2007

Bharti Telesoft has devised and tested a compression technology to enable Indian mobile users view television live on their mobile handsets in a 2.5G environment.

The technology compresses an audio format that is 4-5 times smaller than MP3 and delivers a video format up to 10 times more efficient than MPEG-4 - without compromising on the quality of feed and output.

It is based on video coding technology and is designed for standard mobile devices and operating systems such as Symbian, UIQ and MS Smartphone; that have relatively low CPU processing power, display resolution and memory capabilities, for video streaming.

One may argue that even Java could provide video streaming, but it has been proved that it better supports still multi media.

To access live TV, subscribers can download live TV client to their mobile phone via a GPRS connection. The solution provides additional modules, such as an OTA (Over-The-Air) server to automatically push the client to the subscriber’s handset. Subscribers can simply scroll through menus to select the drama, movie, or music channel they want to watch.

The technology ensures low power consumption, uses less memory for storage and can be transmitted quickly over wireless or other links.

Ready for launch, the technology was under trial for several months.

At present, stored feed from the TV that allows the user to view pre-recorded/saved videos on their mobile handsets is available. Although, it cannot be called live TV, storing of the video overcomes hitches while transmitting a live broadcast.

Another format available today is delayed relay where one can view video on mobile, but with a delay of 15 to 30 minutes vis-a-vis the live video broadcast. To keep the viewer’s attuned, the video is normally edited and shortened before being streamed to the handset.

Broadcast technologies such as Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) and Evolution-Data Optimized (EVDO) do facilitate streaming of real time TV on mobile. However, handset compatibilities limit their reach.

Anshuman Pratyush, head product manager at Bharti explains that even major telecom handset vendors admit that not all handsets are DVB enabled. Also, they require heavy investments into infrastructure. Comparatively, the operating systems will be able to seamlessly migrate to newer architectures and technologies. Integrating them will not be difficult.

At a recent mobile TV Asia conference, vendors admitted that DVB support is few in numbers, primarily because it has major indoor coverage issues. For example, its reach inside cars is negligible.

To a query on how it will procure content, he replies, “We are in touch with media companies on a 1:1 basis. Our content foreseeing team is essentially negotiating with media companies and TV channels. We are also in touch with media houses for content creation and aggregation including entertainment and sports.”

He adds that the technology applications are compatible to stream full movies, in future. Compression enables digital quality output on relatively lower bandwidth. Live TV can be viewed on a bandwidth of 10kbps, but Bharti recommends a bandwidth between 18 and 25 kbps for better impact.

On the bouquet that it will offer subscribers and revenues, he avers, “It is a complete prerogative of the telecom operator. Worldwide, operators earn revenues based on subscription or pay per channel basis. They can also create bundles and offer value ads.”

He discloses, “During discussions at the time of beta trials, operators recommended that they should be able to earn ARPUs between Rs.30 and Rs.50 per operator. Finally, it would all depend on the numbers, quality and type of content they offer.”

On revenue sharing model with operators, he states that it would be between three partners- Bharti, the telecom operator and the content owner. Bharti will provide content, software and hardware, besides managing these services.

“On the operator front, technology can be deployed with minimum infrastructure investment and is network agnostic. Our compression technology is a futuristic technology as it can easily be transformed from a 2G or 2.5G framework to a 3G spectrum as and when the operator upgrades the network,” remarks Ramesh Krishnan, director of content at Bharti.

The company is in advanced stages of negotiations with three telecom operators including a government operator. Pratyush discloses, “We are likely to launch our first service in the next three months.”