Qualcomm Sells MediaFLO Spectrum for $1.93B

Qualcomm said today that it has agreed to sell its 700MHz US spectrum licences to AT&T for US$1.93 billion, with the operator stating that the transaction “will bolster AT&T’s ability to provide an advanced 4G mobile broadband experience for its customers in the years ahead.” The spectrum was used for Qualcomm’s aborted FLO TV mobile broadcast business.

AT&T announced today that it intends to deploy this spectrum as supplemental downlink, using carrier aggregation technology. This technology is designed to deliver substantial capacity gains by enabling unpaired spectrum to be used in conjunction with paired spectrum.

Qualcomm owns 12MHz of the lower 700MHz D and E block spectrum, covering over 70 million people in several cities around the U.S., including New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Block “E” (Channel 56) adjoins MediaFLO (on Channel 55).

AT&T previously bought the former UHF channels 54 and 59, the so-called “C” block of wireless spectrum from Aloha Partners for $2.5 billion in 2007. AT&T will use that spectrum for LTE mobile services. Under that deal, AT&T got 12 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency, which covers 196 million people in 281 markets. This spectrum contains 72 of the top 100 metropolitan areas, including the top 10 markets.

Unlike other 700 MHz blocks, Qualcomm’s spectrum was sold as single 6 MHz chunks, to allow television programming and multi-media to be broadcast much like television.

In the FCC’s Auction 44 (pdf) Aloha Partners paid some $29 million (pdf) for 77 licenses. Then they sold their West Coast license on channel 55 to Qualcomm for MediaFLO. Qualcomm bought licenses for the rest of the country in auction 49 (pdf)

ABI Research expected half a billion mobile video subscribers by 2011. It didn’t happen. Few were willing to pay AT&T or Verizon the $10-$15 a month premium for Qualcomm’s broadcast service, which delivered about a dozen 320×240, low resolution channels to mobile devices.

Another drawback of the MediaFLO system was the need for a tuner on a special phone. Most all smartphones with data channels, on the other hand, could watch YouTube or one of the many subscription services, on demand — without paying extra or conforming to a broadcast schedule.

Qualcomm made out alright in the end. They acquired their spectrum for $125 million, and soon followed that up with an additional $558 million outlay to buy more spectrum.

The sale of the spectrum is subject to regulatory approval. If all goes well, AT&T expects to close the deal with Qualcomm in the second half of 2011.

Meanwhile, U.S. broadcasters are attempting to promote their own version of mobile television broadcast over the ATSC television standard. Unfortunately, the M/H standard will require considerable overhead.

More than half a dozen systems competed for mobile television in the first decade of the 21st Century. They included:

  • Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB) is a digital radio transmission system for sending multimedia. It comes in two favors; S-DMB (for Satellite) and T-DMB (for Terrestrial). It was deployed successfully in South Korea and Japan, and also used in Europe, using dedicated “digital radio” channels. Spectrum is available across Europe in the L-Band (1452–1492 MHz) and Band III (174–240 MHz). T-DMB can often provide mobile TV faster than DVB-H, which must wait for UHF spectrum to become available.
  • DVB-T (Europe’s Terrestrial DTV). The DVB Project is the demonstrating a scheme that allows a DVB-T multiplex to contain one or more DVB-H services alongside a high-definition DVB-T service in the same 6 MHz channel. The co-existence of a 13.8 Mbps high-definition television signal and a 5.5 Mbps DVB-H signal within a 19.3 Mbps stream. It uses Hierarchical Modulation, embedded as a High Priority service within a Low Priority DVB-T stream.
  • DVB-H was formally adopted as ETSI standard in November 2004. European broadcasters as well as US-backed Modeo and Aloha Partners backed it (probably to stall its 700 MHz spectrum investment – a good move as it turns out).
  • DVB-SH, published by ETSI in March 2008, the specification is designed to enable the delivery of mobile TV services in S-band over hybrid satellite/terrestrial networks. Satellite operator ICO in the United States, announced a nationwide deployment of an hybrid satellite/terrestrial network using DVB-SH, in 2008, but has kept a very low profile. Very mysterious.
  • Qualcomm’s MediaFLO uses dedicated frequency spectrum at 716-722 MHz, previously UHF TV channel 55. On December 1, 2005 Verizon Wireless and Qualcomm announced partnership for the MediaFLO network. AT&T Mobility launched MediaFlo mobile tv service in February 2007 and Verizon launched the service commercially as part of its VCAST offering on March 1, 2007. Verizon’s V-Cast is largely branding, incorporating both the cellular and broadcast (MediaFLO) technologies. Needs a special tuner on a phone.
  • MobiTV (Sprint & AT&T). It uses cell channels not dedicated frequencies like MediaFLO, but unicasts (to individuals) rather that multicasts (to multiple parties).
  • IP Wireless TDtv uses 5 or 10 MHz of spectrum for Mobile TV. IPWireless works in unused TDD spectrum and is based on the 3GPP Release 8 IMB standard. It provides for up to 28, 300kbps in 10MHz of TDD spectrum.
  • Mobile WiMAX TV (using modified MobiTV). Made an announcement. No products (yet), but some form of it may be inevitable with Comcast and Time Warner Cable into WiMAX big-time, with their TV anywhere promotion.
  • ATSC M/H is the US approved mobile TV standard by the ATSC. It incorporates all the multipath problems of 8-VSB, but keeps royalities coming to the gang of four. The Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) is an alliance of U.S. commercial and public broadcasters formed to accelerate the development and rollout of mobile DTV

The giant MBSAT broadcast communications satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral for Mobile Broadcasting Corporation (MBCO) of Japan and SK Telecom of Korea, broadcast more than 50 channels of audio and video direct to mobiles from 16 S-band transmitters operating at 120 W. It was successfully delivered to orbit in 2004. But business success didn’t follow. The service was shut down on March 31, 2009.

Related Dailywireless articles include; TV Metrics Worth Watching, MobileTV Cup, Satellite Radio Vs Cellcos, Spectrum Grab at NAB, NAB: Mobile TV for 700MHz, Samsung Mobile Does ATSC Mobile TV, Paul Allen sells his 700 MHZ licenses, Google: We Got Trouble. . . In 700 Mhz, FCC Finalizes Rules on 700MHz: Limited Open Access, No Wholesale Requirement, Qualcomm Buys Flarion, Joint Commecial/Muni Proposed for 700Mhz, AT&T’s WiFi TV, Hiwire Moves on Mobile TV, Mobile TV War at NAB, Small Ops Squeezed Out of 700MHz?, HiWire: 24 Mobile TV Channels, Rural Broadband Gets A Plan, Verizon Makes its Move for Universal Service Fund, The Smartest Guy in the Room, 700 MHz On The Line?, 700 Mhz Worth $28B, 4G Auctions, RUS Funding for 700 MHz, The 700 Mhz Club, Channel 54: Where are You?

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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