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AT&T to Flip On Qualcomm’s Live Mobile-Video Platform

AT&T, the largest U.S. wireless operator with nearly 61 million customers, plans to launch a live mobile-TV service in the fourth quarter using Qualcomm’s MediaFLO USA dedicated wireless network.

With the multiyear deal, MediaFLO USA has locked up the top two U.S. mobile carriers: last month, the 57 million-subscriber Verizon Wireless announced plans to launch a similar video-on-the-go service with the Qualcomm subsidiary before the end of March.

What about No. 3, Sprint Nextel? The company “has no immediate plans to deploy the MediaFLO service, but we will continue to evaluate it as a potential service for the future,” spokeswoman Jennifer Walsh Kiefer said.

Key details of AT&T’s mobile-TV service, including pricing, haven’t been determined yet. Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations for the company’s wireless unit, did note that the video service will carry an additional monthly charge and require subscribers to get new phones. Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, hasn’t yet announced pricing or specific market availability either.

The service from AT&T’s Cingular Wireless — a brand the telco is phasing out, as AT&T completed its acquisition of its Cingular co-owner, Bell South, late last year — will carry the basic lineup of channels from MediaFLO USA, which so far has signed agreements with CBS, Fox, NBC News, NBC Entertainment, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and ESPN.

In addition to those live channels, AT&T expects to tap other features of MediaFLO USA’s platform, including a “datacasting” application for real-time information. Using the datacasting features, AT&T will provide two channels that will be available exclusively to its subscribers for which “the content is still to be determined,” Siegel said.

For now, the AT&T wireless division plans to keep its existing mobile video services, which include TV programming delivered by MobiTV and on-demand video clips. The carrier also has a deal with HBO to offer some original series episodes exclusively on mobile devices.

“This is a complement to, not a replacement of, our current offering,” Siegel said.

AT&T tried out both MediaFLO’s technology as well as digital video broadcasting-handheld (DVB-H), a technology being promoted by Nokia, before selecting the Qualcomm offering, according to Gina Lombardi, president of MediaFLO USA.

Lombardi said one key advantage the MediaFLO platform holds: channel-switching time is less than 2 seconds, compared with 5 to 8 seconds for DVB-H. “MediaFLO was designed for this multimedia, broadcast experience,” she said.