The EU last week endorsed the DVB-H technology standard for television on mobile devices. But, asks Will Strauss, was it the right decision?

Last week the European Commission officially endorsed DVB-H as the mobile television technology of choice in Europe.

This means that member states should now "encourage" use of the technology. Which is pretty strong support. And it should lead one to assume that DVB-H will be the way forward for broadcasters, mobile operators and mobile device makers who want to get involved in - or improve - mobile TV services. But will it?

Before we get to the ‘for and against', let's just establish that the mobile television services currently being offered here generally arrive via 3G networks. DVB-H, however, is different.

What is DVB-H?

A combination of conventional digital video and IP, DVB-H is largely based on the DVB-T specification for digital terrestrial television - and can be included as part of an existing DVB-T multiplex.

DVB-H is backed by a number of mobile device manufacturers (including Nokia, Motorola and Samsung) and telecoms operators Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile.

Now that DVB-H has been rubber stamped the development and use of other technologies is still possible but official EU backing for one standard creates some certainty for operators planning mobile broadcasting services and manufacturers making phones and chips.

Proposed last year the announcement came as no real surprise. But selecting a preferred technology is all very well and good. But what if one of the countries involved, the UK, isn't 100% behind it?

For the prosecution

As an example, two mobile network operators in this country - Orange and T-Mobile - are doing tests in London based on 3G networks.

Some analysts aren't convinced either, especially as the spectrum for DVB-H won't be available until after switchover. Ovum said:

  • Opting for a single standard is useless if there is no common spectrum available to deploy it. The UHF band, which is the most favourable band for DVB-H deployments, is due to be opened up once the digital switchover is completed around 2012. However, at the moment there is no consensus on what this band should be used for. This is a problem since given the nature of spectrum airwaves do not stop at national borders. Neighbouring member states will need to agree how this spectrum band should be used to ensure that interference does not occur.

There also doesn't seem to have been much thinking done around how DVB-H can make money. One suggestion is that it should be free to start with.

For the defence

On the other hand, looking at the positives, UK tests done in 2006 by O2 and Arqiva were seen to be successful. 85% of the trialists said they were satisfied with the service. Content providers on that occasion included Channel 4, BBC, ITV and Discovery.

And, because it can be included as part of an existing DVB-T multiplex, DVB-H may work in the interests of broadcasters.

There is also the argument that governments occasionally do have the public's best interests in mind, like they did when GSM was adopted for mobile phones.

A crucial point

What I don't understand is this: DVB-H is a one-to-many technology, like traditional TV. But with the success of 4oD and the BBC iPlayer I would suggest that it is more likely that on-demand technology is going to succeed in the future whether on mobile or bigger viewing screens.

It is difficult enough to make a success of appointment-to-view television when it is beamed into living rooms so I'm not convinced that it will be hugely successful on a mobile device. To my mind at least, on demand mobile TV has a far better chance of being a success service in ten or twenty years time.

As Richard Jukes of Ground Up Media, a production and distribution company for digital platforms, said me last week, context is everything.

  • "Many an industry w*nker has said ‘content is king' over the last five years but we actually think that this is nonsense. In our business ‘context is king'. People have got this scattergun approach to digital. We ask why would they want to consume, what duration and in what circumstance? Sport won't work on mobile because if you're watching football you can't see the bloody ball. But also, more important than that, [you have to ask] who your audience is."

DVB-H may have got EU backing but that doesn't guarantee that it will be a success.

What do you think? Is DVB-H the way forward? Have your say below.