Telecommunications, Automotive and Market Research

More than 15 years in the mobile telecommunications industry and an industry analyst since 1998.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

RIP MediaFLO? One Man's Experience

Having been a part of the mobile research and advisory industry for more than 10 years, I was lucky enough to get some cellphones to test when they were announced by the mobile operators.  AT&T was the most generous and I had the chance to use both a LG VU and a Samsung Eternity, both of which were equipped with MediaFLO receivers. These were both great phones (the Eternity is still in loving use) and the mobile TV function was something I needed to try out so I could have a clear understanding of how it worked from the consumer's perspective.

The relatively low frequencies used by the MediaFLO TV signal (UHF 52-54) gave it pretty good range and building penetration, so I could watch good TV even inside the house.

But the real test came when I was taking a train to my old family home in Michigan. Snow on the tracks had delayed the Amtrak Wolverine Express for several hours (Snow? In Michigan? In December? How could Amtrak have anticipated that?!) So I whipped out my LG VU to start watching TV programming.

And I watched.... er... well. Nothing that I really wanted to. I'm bored out of my mind, I have THE best technology to chase my boredom away and there's nothing. Deep inside Chicago's Union Station, the signal was weak. Once we started clickety-clacking through the Chicago suburbs, though, the signal was strong.

The programming, however, was weak. A movie that was halfway over. Spongebob Squarepants. Something about football. I kept flipping the channels, thinking "15 channels and nothing to watch." I finally settled on a news documentary about some woman who had killed her child (not my customary viewing).

Luckily, or not, once we got outside Chicago and neared Gary, Indiana, the signal sputtered and vanished. No more FLOTV for me for the rest of the trip.

I was deeply unsatisfied and, not only that, I was getting the signals for free! Because I was an industry analyst with a test unit, I wasn't even paying the $15/month charge.

I felt let down. And I remembered my visit to the huge, elaborate network operations center QUALCOMM had built in San Diego. They said proudly that they had the most advanced NOC anywhere... even the major networks didn't have operations like this.

15 channels and nothing to watch.

It was pretty clear MediaFLO was about to die a slow death.  There's no doubt that the technology worked, and worked really well. But the programming and the cost doomed US operations of MediaFLO from the start. Good try, great proof-of-technology. Business case? Not so much...

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