For such a fast growing industry, mobile operators need to be constantly offering new and innovative value-added services such as Prepaid International Roaming, International MMS, Reduced International Call Rates, and EDGE-based data services. Moreover, as 3G networks are still to be established, operators are optimizing services that can run on regular GPRS/EDGE networks.
Telenor Pakistan's Mobile TV is one such offer. The service enables customers to watch TV content on their GPRS/EDGE-enabled handsets anywhere, anytime. This is a unique and innovative service in Pakistan, and at par with only a few other mobile operators in the region.
Worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 120 networks that offer mobile TV commercially such as those in South Korea, Japan, India, UK, Ireland, Italy, and the US. In South Asia, Pakistan is the second country after India that has successfully launched the service.
Market research in Pakistan has shown that there is increasing demand for mobile TV content that has a focus on national and international news, latest stock market reports, financial news, and entertainment. In addition, there is a huge potential for advertisers to reach out to a totally new market in a totally new way.
How it works
The mobile TV service streamcasts TV content to customers. It currently offers 13 channels with more to be added soon.
Users download a mobile TV application to their handsets by sending an SMS. Once the application is installed via GPRS, users select the channel they want to watch.
The source of the mobile TV service is a steaming server that is part of the Telenor Pakistan network. The server is fed content by fibre-optic and is connected to Telenor Pakistan's data network via interfacing with GGSN (the front-end node of GPRS).
Preceding the actual streaming is the authentication and authorization procedure of the user for his or her account details on the mobile TV server. Once complete, the service engages GPRS as carrier to stream the data via Telenor Pakistan's network to the application on the handset, which after decoding, displays it on the handset.
The user can at any time switch channels to select the content of his choice by a versatile menu. The picture quality depends on the handset and varies from good (on handsets with relatively smaller display screens) to excellent (bigger screen handsets like the Nokia E61).
The channels offer national and international news and local entertainment programming. A streaming partner aggregates and customizes content, which is delivered on Telenor's GPRS/EDGE network.
Even though a 3G network is a better medium for advanced data services such as mobile TV, this does not mean that 3G is the core requirement for such a service. Moreover, there is no limit to the number of channels that can be viewed on GPRS/EDGE as it depends on the type of client and hardware/software that is being used.
Telenor Pakistan, in an effort to widen the target market and to offer the service at more affordable rates, recently reduced subscription charges for mobile TV. The move is in line with our strategy to continue to be the country's premier mobile phone leader in trendsetting and innovating for the customer. The move is expected to boost the number of current subscribers and raise the profile of the service from which both customers and content providers can benefit.
Changing the regulatory landscape
Currently, there is no regulatory framework that addresses streamcasting TV content to mobile handsets. Customers with PDAs or smartphones simply log on to the Internet, go to streaming sites and then select content from there. With mobile TV, this process has been shortened and TV content made available to customers with regular GPRS/EDGE handsets too.
The launch has necessitated the need for applicable regulatory framework. Telenor Pakistan is working with Pakistan's Ministry of Information Technology and the national broadcasting regulator PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic and Media Regulatory Authority) to produce a set of policy guidelines. Telenor Pakistan is so far the only mobile operator that is part of the consultation process.
Future of mobile TV in Pakistan
There has been an encouraging response from customers in Pakistan for mobile TV on GPRS/EDGE. As more and more channels are added and customers get accustomed to watching TV on the go, the demand for mobile TV is sure to go up. Our immediate goal is to strengthen the present offer.
For the future, however, the most promising technology for delivery of such content seems to be the emerging DVB-H standard. Currently under trial in Scandinavia , Australia and a number of other countries, DVB-H -- as with mobile TV on GPRS/EDGE -- will also be supply-side driven in Pakistan. The need will be for mobile operators to educate customers and advertisers about the benefits of receiving high quality TV content wherever they go, wherever they are. There will also be need for content to be designed specifically for mobile handsets as it will not be enough to rebroadcast available TV channels. And because costs are currently high, these will also need to be brought down for higher uptake of the service.
According to research, one in 10 mobile users worldwide watches mobile TV on their handsets. With a mobile density of 41% and more than 100 million mobile customers expected by 2010, Pakistan is well positioned to fully benefit from the mobile TV experience.
Population Census Organization, http://www.statpak.gov.pk/depts/pco/index.html
NPD Group, www.npdgroup.com