As TV goes mobile, the wireless industry once again finds itself divided. And as before,
is heading down one path -- and everyone else is staking out the other.
How to enable TV broadcasts to cell phones is among the big themes at the CTIA wireless information technology and entertainment conference this week in Los Angeles. The wireless-industry gathering promises to be a glittering showcase of emerging trends.
Of course, whenever the mobile mob gathers, there's an opportunity to explore the industry fault lines. That's particularly so when there are emerging technology standards to debate.
In mobile TV, there are basically two approaches to broadcasting video to cell phones. There's Qualcomm's MediaFlo, and there's an alliance backing DVB-H, or digital video broadcast -- handheld.
"It's GSM versus CDMA all over again," says Ovum analyst Roger Entner, referring to Europe's global systems for mobile, and Qualcomm's code division multiple access. Those standards have largely split the wireless world for years.
On Monday, reiterating a well-understood stance, mobile tech heavyweights
announced they both support DVB-H interoperability. Motorola, Nokia,
are among the original members of the Mobile DTV Alliance, the DVB-H backers.
For Qualcomm, the split is nothing new. The company fought vigorously to establish CDMA as a standard when telcos were converting their wireless networks to digital signals in the '90s. The San Diego tech titan has continued the battle in the courtroom, where it most recently has fought antitrust charges and royalty challenges against rivals like Nokia and
But Qualcomm says it is not a divider and would prefer more harmony on the technology front.
"There's a twofold approach typical of Qualcomm," says a company representative. "We have a tendency to look at problems afresh and figure out on paper an optimal approach."
"We consider MediaFlo to be the best solution for mobile TV," says the rep.
Qualcomm announced in May that it was developing a chip that would operate in both MediaFlo and DVB-H settings. But industry observers doubt there will be much room for common ground.
"The lines in the sand have largely been drawn," says Ovum's Entner. "Europe will go DVB-H, and the U.S. will have Flo."