Formerly Head of Content Solutions at BBC Technology in the UK, Farrimond is now responsible for developing and building Broadcast Australia’s business strategy for mobile TV services. Broadcast Australia recently conducted a high-power trial of digital video broadcast – handheld (DVB-H) services, transmitted from Sydney’s Gore Hill.

“The DVB-H trial has established Broadcast Australia as a key player in the mobile TV arena,” says Farrimond. “Our core business is broadcast infrastructure, yet our role in mobile TV has the potential to be a lot broader than just pure transmission capabilities.” This is illustrated by the company’s operation of the trial DVB-H multiplex from the Gore Hill network operations centre.

“When bringing a mobile TV proposition to market, it’s critical to understand the convergence of mobile, media, and broadcast services,” Farrimond said. “(This) DVB-H trial has been critical in providing an understanding of how consumers might use the service. There are a lot of technology and network choices right now, and those who understand consumer behaviour best will make the most effective commercial case for mobile TV.”

Phase one of the DVB-H trial (conducted in conjunction with Foxtel, Telstra, Nokia, Radio Frequency Systems and other parties) officially concluded in June 2006. This was followed by the second current phase of the trial, which is utilising the latest DVB-H technology options and a variety of new handsets. 500 customers are participating.

“During the 18-month DVB-H trial (started July 2005) in Sydney we’ve seen handset technology evolve substantially. A lot has been learned about what consumers are looking for in handset design. Much of this learning has been taken on board by handset manufacturers,” Farrimond explains.

Normal DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) is based on the DVBT standard. This trial utilized the DVB-H standard, which is basedThe DVB-H trial conducted in Sydney, Australia has provided invaluable insights into the viability of a commercial service. The key difference being that DVB-H is designed to support a much larger number of channels tailored for the smaller sized screen. Also, DVB-H utilizes time-slicing to extend the phone’s battery life.

A mobile TV network has to have deeper coverage than normal DTT in order to meet customers’ quality of service expectations.

In Sydney, Broadcast Australia currently has 1 major transmitter and 2 boosters – with DVB-H this will be complemented with several ‘in-fill’ sites to deliver an acceptable quality of service.

DVB-H is a logical extension to a telco’s existing mobile services – telcos also have a back-channel (return path). There are some embryonic mobile video services on 3G such as Telstra’s NextG service, however, as user demand increases such services may become unsustainable due to the capacity limitations of a traditional cellular network.

In Australia, a 7 MHz UHF channel, ‘Channel B’ will initially become available later this year, upon which a multi-channel Mobile TV service will be multiplexed. The number of TV channels supported within this 7MHz is likely to be between 20 and 40. A DVB-H licence will be up for auction (handled by the regulator ACMA). Telstra and other mobile networks are expected to show strong interest, Channel 7 and Fairfax are also reported to be interested. The UHF (channel B) licence will be for 10 years, with the option to extend for 5 years at a time.

Regarding the trial, which broadcast a wide array of genres over 16 channels:

• 80% of trial participants were pleased with the service

• The propensity to pay would be within AU$15-20 (US$11-15)

• Viewers had no problem with adverts, this was re-transmission of terrestrial channels

• Average viewing was 25-30 minutes per day, spread across 3 or 4 sessions

• Viewing was supplementary to, rather than cannibalizing from, regular TV viewing – a new primetime emerging during commuter hours, evenings

• Raised possibility of installing a DVB-H into the back of cars, instead of DVD

• Viewers wanted the TV channels they were used to, not made-for-mobile content

Farrimond also explains why DVB-H was chosen for the trial over (Korean standard) Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB). “DMB acts as an overlay to DAB (digital radio) networks which are only in the trial stages in Australia. It is not appropriate for the UHF Channel B. Thus, DMB will not be appropriate for Australia, at least until DAB is established there,” he says.

As to which broadcasting to mobile technology will dominate, whether it be DVB-H, DMB or MediaFlo, Farrimond has this to say. “All these technologies sit alongside each other and which, if any, dominate in any country will to some degree be determined by individual circumstances in those markets. For example, when analogue TV turn-off happens. DVB-H is more of an open standard, while MediaFlo is Qualcomm’s proprietary system. Even if MediaFlo proves to be the superior technology, wider availability of DVB-H compatible handsets at this stage may prove the driver of DVB-H over MediaFlo. However, it is too early to kill off either technology,” he concludes.