Modeo’s Talking Cell Phone TV

After three years of development, Crown Castle Mobile Media LLC is rebranding itself Modeo LLC and beginning a drive to roll out a mobile-TV video and audio service in the top 30 U.S. markets by the end of 2007.

A subsidiary of cellular-tower operator Crown Castle International Corp., Modeo has unveiled an ambitious service plan to beam live TV, custom mobile video and audio content directly into next-generation mobile devices including cell phones. Modeo rollouts are expected to begin this year, with New York City among the first markets.

Modeo is one of two mobile video and multimedia broadcast services now in the works for the U.S. market. The other is a being fielded by MediaFlo USA Inc., a subsidiary of wireless technology giant Qualcomm Inc.

The Modeo service will use the Video Broadcast Handheld (DVB-H) standard to transmit signals over licensed 1.6-Gigahertz spectrum that Crown Castle snapped up for $12.6 million in a 2003 Federal Communications Commission auction.

The network itself will be anchored by parent Crown Castle’s nationwide grid of 10,000-plus towers.

Video content will be broadcast in 320-by-240-pixel QVGA resolution — the same resolution used for Apple Computer Inc. iPod video content — with frame rates targeted in the 20-to-24-frames-per-second range, Modeo president Michael Schueppert said. In comparison, 24 frames per second is the standard for theatrical films.

On the content front, Modeo is developing its lineup based on feedback from a recently completed service trial in Pittsburgh, where it offered about 10 video channels and 20 audio channels to about 50 customers using prototype DVB-H handsets.

Despite the rising interest in on-demand content, Modeo will probably concentrate at first on linear TV and radio channels, Schueppert added.

“That’s where the bulk of video and audio consumption is today, and that’s where the best video products are,” he said.

Modeo is confident it can tap that market, and to boost that argument Schueppert points to estimates from research firms Frost and Sullivan and IDC that worldwide market will rise north of $1.5 billion by 2009. Nevertheless, there are still lingering questions as what kind of video content viewers will want to see on their 2-inch-square cell phone screens.

Based on its Pittsburgh tests, Modeo is leaning toward a mix of short and longer-format video programming, ranging from TV shows to exclusive mobile video content.

“We think the bite-sized model is important, but we also think the ability to properly cater for people with somewhat longer attention spans is desirable as well,” Schueppert said. He added that during the Pittsburgh trial, “nobody gave us feedback that they felt that viewing became uncomfortable after some length of time.”

And the Modeo service may not be confined to cellular phones. Modeo is now eyeing laptop computers and automotive DVD players as prime targets for its service. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Modeo showed off automotive DVB-H versions of its service with partners Motorola and Kenwood Inc.

The fact that the United States is such a strong TV market also bodes well for services like Modeo, noted analyst Roger Entner, vice president of wireless telecoms for Ovum Research.

“You have more TV viewership in this country than in any other country,” he said. “Why would that love be less in the mobile environment?”

Meanwhile, rival MediaFlo is also on the move. Last month, it forged a deal with Verizon Wireless to jointly roll out its multimedia mobile broadcast service using licensed 700 Megahertz spectrum. The nationwide MediaFlo network is now under construction and plans are to begin service by the end of the year.

While Modeo still doesn’t have a wireless-carrier partner, there are signs of interest among the major players. That includes Sprint Nextel, which has been testing the DVB-H and MediaFlo technologies.


Schueppert points out that Modeo does have a good stable of technology partners, including handset makers Nokia and Motorola Inc., as well as an unannounced group of major content providers.

“Clearly we are far enough along with all of the different elements in pulling this service together — with chipsets and handsets and content and distribution and so on — that we are comfortable around the statements we are making about the commercial launch,” Schueppert said.

But is there room for two mobile-TV broadcast services?

Entner points out that the same situation exists in satellite radio between providers XM and Sirius.

“I think there is room for two,” he said. “Choice is always good.”