Mobile satellite broadcasting ready for launch

Companies in South Korea and Japan say they are ready to launch a new satellite broadcasting service in the next two months that can send video and audio directly to devices such as mobile telephones, handheld terminals and in-car receivers.

Prototype terminals for the service, which will be launched in South Korea by TU Media and in Japan by Mobile Broadcasting (MBCO), were on show at the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) Telecom Asia 2004 conference and exhibition in South Korea, this week.

The services will broadcast from a satellite launched by the two companies earlier this year. Unlike existing satellite systems that require dish antennas, the service uses L-band frequencies, which are around 2.6GHz and close to those used by third-generation (3G) cellular services, so it can be received using an antenna built into a portable receiver.

TU Media is planning to broadcast a package of 14 video channels and 24 audio channels from November for a monthly charge of 13,000 won (AU$16) said Cho Jin-Ho, manager of the company's technology strategy team. The service also will include video files that can be downloaded into the memory of the terminal device and played on demand, he said.

Both Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have produced prototype cellular telephones for the service, which were on show at the exhibition.

The Samsung SCH-B100 is a candy-bar form factor model and has viewing screen that swivels out from behind the telephone body to provide a landscape-oriented screen on which to watch TU Media's TV offering. It can record up to two hours of video in MPEG4, has a 2-megapixel camera, MP3 player and QVGA resolution (240 pixels by 320 pixels) TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display).

The LG SB-100 is a clamshell handset with a square 2.4-inch LCD that offers 320 pixel by 320 pixel resolution. Because the screen is wider than a conventional mobile phone, it means the video can be watched in full QVGA resolution without having to turn the phone on its side to accommodate the image. It too can record TV programming and comes with a 1-megapixel camera.

Both telephones are expected out before the end of this year and TU Media is also planning to provide a handheld terminal and receiver system for cars, said Cho.

Japan's MBCO will start its service in October and plans to offer seven video channels and 30 audio channels, said Yoshitake Yamaguchi, senior manager for MBCO's satellite and coordination group. The service will cost between ¥1,000 (AU$13) and ¥3,000 (AU$39.50) depending on the number of channels selected.

The company was demonstrating a prototype receiver, produced by Toshiba, at the exhibition and Yamaguchi said Sharp Corp. is also working on a receiver. Both are expected to be ready in time for next month's launch. The company is also anticipating a CF (Compact Flash) card receiver for use with personal computers will be available soon and, sometime next year, cellular telephones with support for the service.

Whether consumers are willing to pay for such multimedia content remains to be seen. TU Media's TV lineup will include South Korea's four major TV networks while MBCO will include about eight hours per day from leading Japanese public broadcaster NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai) and cable channels such as MTV Japan and all-news NNN24.

"I think (satellite broadcasting to mobile terminals) will work well in markets were there are many commuters," said Tim Kelly, head of the ITU's policy and strategy unit. Kelly, the author of a new ITU report on the mobile Internet that was published on Wednesday, said he believes people on long commutes want to watch TV and that delivering such services via satellite works better and more efficiently that over the cellular network.

Commuters make up one market that MBCO is interested in, Yamaguchi said. Many people who work in Tokyo face commutes of at least an hour to get to work each day and so listening to music or browsing or messaging on cell phones is a popular activity during what would otherwise be dead time.

Yamaguchi said MBCO has worked to build a network of gap-filler transmitters that provide service in areas that cannot be reached via satellite. One of MBCO's priorities was the Yamanote railway line that circles central Tokyo and carries more than 3 million passengers per day. Coverage of that area is now at 99 percent, he said.

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