Japan is six months away from an exciting new multimedia mobile experience courtesyof satellite broadcasting. If this sounds like a curtain raising, rewritten press release circa 1996 previewing the impending launch of the then PerfecTV! digital satellitebroadcasting service, well there could be a parallel or two about the storywe predict will unfold with Mobile Broadcasting Corporation’s attempts,starting next spring, to beam.
If this flip-flop introduction bothers you, well, fair warning from WWJ,because we believe that when you want mobile connectivity (except if you areNATO or The Pentagon, or worse) why bother to pay half a billion dollars fora satellite when terrestrial wireless technology is the real future? SS-band audio, video and data from a satellite to mobile phones are odds on to join the Iridium handset in the reject bin of technological history.
This summer, MBCO finally got the go ahead to launch its satellite toprovide, wait for it, about seven TV channels at 15 frames per second, andabout 55 radio channels, courtesy of an Atlas rocket, if it doesn’t blow up,and Space Systems/ Loral, a bankrupt U.S. satellite company.
“They (Loral) are still reorganizing the company. We have a letter from themsaying they won’t change their plans on the project. We trust them,” saysMBCO’s Business Planning Manager Masaaki Igarashi.
If all goes well, the satellite will beam down 7 Mbps on MPEG-2 for basebandmultiplexing, MPEG-2AA for audio coding and MPEG-4 Visual for video coding.The not so huge per-TV channel bandwidth will be 370 Kbps s for images and40 Kbps for sound, says Igarashi, from next summer first to cars and then in2005 to yet-to-be-developed mobile phones.
Unfortunately, true mobile connectivity, supplied by thousands of gapfiller terminals planted in Tokyo, Nagoya and other major cities, won’tmake up for the total clumsiness of the system.
The first terminals, which will be restricted to bigger box portable TVs andPDAs require a seven-chip solution to sort out the jumble. MBCO will have toconvince Toshiba, a major investor in the company, or other big JapaneseIDMs, to dig out a maximum twin chip, 90-nm process to make terminalsanything like today’s FOMA phones. In 2005.
“Our position is quite different. Cell phone terminals are usually frommakers from DoCoMo. We will just promote our services and have them(Toshiba, etc.) decide to develop the phones.”
WWJ suggests readers don’t hold their breaths then. Just before the launchof Iridium in the late 90s, the author traveled down to Kyocera’s Kyotoheadquarters to take a look at the infamous thousand-dollar Iridium brickphone. It wasn’t quite as bad as field issue for D-Day, but I had troublenot smirking when Kyocera admitted it might work better if you leaned out ofthe window and pointed it at the satellites passing overhead.
The whole point about MBCO’s service was that by putting thousands of relayterminals in cities, users wouldn’t need a wok-sized antenna glued to theirheads to get the picture or hear the message. If this all seems a storyabout how technology has to be engineered to cope with a wonked up concept–cheap useable mobile communications from satellites — you’d be right. We also wonder how disruptive 802.11 hot-spots will be to this business model..!?!
MBCO’s official line is that in Korea, TV broadcasting to mobile phones hasalready started. Once MBCO gets Japan’s IDMs to go off and spend millions ofbucks integrating a jigsaw puzzle of LSIs into the phone, then people willline up to buy, attracted by MBCO’s attractive low flat service rate.
Iridium, ICO and Teledesic, the grand mobile phone constellations of the90s, are all defunct. Iridium collapsed when nobody got the message. ICO andthe broadband bells and whistles Microsoft-favored Teledesic never got offthe ground. All the millions of words written about the demise ofsatellite-based mobile telephony can be boiled down to four words; who needsthe trouble? The answer was that nobody did.
MBCO says it needs 1.2 million subscribers to break even. Which brings usback to digital satellite broadcasting. In 1996 Japanese viewers had theprivilege being able to watch on average about eight dreary and parochialterrestrial channels and a few warmed over movies and nature documentariesfrom state broadcaster NHK. PerfecTV!, the Rupert Murdoch-MasayoshiSon-backed JSKYB and DirecTV held out the promise of hundreds of digitalquality channels ｭ all the mud wrestling, minority sports, handbag selling,soft porn and Discovery Channel a couch potato could dream of, for the priceof two-three movie tickets a month.
After the shotgun merger of PefecTV! and JSKYB and the ignominious collapseof DirecTV, the winner of the digi satellite wars, Sky Perfect, believesit may finally break even (after some nifty juggling of its account booksearlier this year) in 2004, eight years and three million subscribers afterthe industry was launched.
My Conclusion.. bon voyage, Mobile Brick Corporation.
— Paul Kallander