These factors did not become apparent until deployments were well under way, and in Europe there was an initial wave of enthusiasm. Among deployments that at first appeared quite successful were KPN’s Mobiel DVB-H service in the Netherlands, which had attracted 40,000 customers by the end of 2008, and a wholesale service from Italy’s largest commercial broadcaster, Mediaset. All these eventually failed, with Mediaset’s DVB-H frequencies being reallocated to terrestrial broadcast services. In the U.S., Qualcomm’s MediaFLO failed for similar reasons early in 2011, becoming the highest-profile mobile broadcast service to close down.
The exceptions to the rule of failure so far have been in Japan, South Korea and Brazil, where linear mobile TV services have been going several years. But, crucially, these services have been delivered over digital or analog terrestrial networks rather than 3G, and this provides an important clue to the future of mobile broadcast and its possible convergence with cellular services.
Even in these three countries, mobile TV has not yet proved very profitable, with ecosystem participants struggling to find sustainable revenue-generating business models. One factor that applies equally in all countries is changing all that: the tablet boom. This has already delivered a large and fast-growing population of wireless connected devices that will increasingly create demand for access to both on-demand and linear TV services outside as well as around the home. This factor alone has changed the game for mobile broadcast, as Qualcomm’s CEO Paul Jacobs acknowledged at the time MediaFLO was closing.
“I still believe strongly in mobile TV,” Jacobs said. “On a tablet it’s pretty compelling. It’s just a question of exactly how it will happen and with which technology.”