As part of its efforts to check the technical and commercial viability of Digital Video Broadcasting on Handhelds (DVB-H) in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Media City (DMC) is testing the technology in Dubai.
The US $2 million project, claimed to be the second major DVB-H trial in the Middle East after Qatar, was awarded to Rohde & Schwarz (R&S), and went on air officially on June 1, 2007.
DMC distributed 500 Nokia handsets (models N92 & N77) among 500 individuals of different nationalities, backgrounds, and age groups in Dubai to trial the technology. At the end of the trial, DMC will conclude whether the service will be commercially viable.
"The objective of this trial is to study the technical and commercial feasibility of DVB-H services and prepare the ground for its commercial roll out," says Amina AlRustamani, executive director of Media, TECOM Investments.
"The trial is also aimed at identifying the content and channel choices of the users along with timings and location preference. Further advanced analysis will conclude in-depth opportunities for creating refined and customised packages for Mobile TV users," she confirms.
DMC has partnered with the UAE's second telecom operator, du, as well as the country's state-owned broadcast giants, Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI) and Emirates Media Incorporated (EMI) to introduce DVB-H in the UAE.
The commercial trial licensed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) began in June this year. A new DVB-H SFN (single frequency network consisting of three transmission sites) has been deployed with the support of R&S, Nokia and T-Systems, a division of Deutsche Telekom.
"This was a turnkey project," says Viswanathan Skandakkumar, regional broadcast manager, R&S Emirates LLC. "It included the supply & installation of a DVB-H transmitter and an antenna at the Dubai World Trade Centre and a playout centre at Samacom Teleport. We also did the network planning, system integration and field strength studies."
The second phase included the installation of two additional DVB-H transmitters - one at Shatha tower near Dubai Media City and one at Umm Suqueim Broadcast station. These transmitters will boost DMC's coverage within Dubai. There are plans for future expansion with additional transmitters to achieve 100% coverage within Dubai.
"In the first two months, the technical evaluation on the system, handsets and the signal coverage was completed," explains Skandakkumar.
At present, DMC is transmitting 12 channels through its DVB-H network and provides a fairly extensive portable outdoor coverage within Dubai. However, Skandakkumar says DMC will need several additional transmitters in selected locations as well as on-channel repeaters in major shopping malls to ensure wider coverage should it decide to provide it as a commercial service.
"Right now, there is a reasonable portable outdoor coverage from Deira to Jebel Ali with three DVB-H transmitters in operation. However, for indoor coverage, especially within shopping malls, DMC will need indoor on-channel low power repeaters. This is due to the heavy attenuation posed by the various layers of walls and glasses in a typical building. Commercial networks should have excellent indoor coverage in malls as these are the areas where people try to access mobile TV services," says Skandakkumar.
Rohde & Schwarz was responsible for the supply of the main equipment such as the DVB-H transmitters, encoders and the IP Encapsulator for the trial, while the other equipment such as the Broadcast Service Manager and the antenna came from Nokia and Kathrein respectively. A key partner in this project was T-Systems, Germany, which was responsible for the coverage planning as well as the systems integration at the playout centre.
R&S Emirates oversaw the entire project. Approximately 20 people from R&S and its partners were on site to complete the project. Operations and maintenance trainings were also conducted for the playout centre and transmitters.
Currently, DBV-H is built into Nokia's N92, N77 and Samsung's P910, P920, P930 phones. Other mobile phone manufacturers have also come up with different DVB-H compatible phones.
Both Etisalat and du currently offer their customers mobile TV services through 3G streaming.
Globally, it is thought that DVB-H technology provides a cost effective Mobile TV solution than 3G as the latter is limited by the mobile operator's bandwidth.
This is because 3G technology operates on a one-to-one basis, where the signals have to be streamed to each individual phone. This consumes mobile phone networks' bandwidth, which means the operator has to compromise on his number of subscribers depending on the available bandwidth.
This is unlike DVB-H technology, which enables broadcast on Ultra High Frequency (UHF). Here, the service becomes available on air to an unlimited number of phones that have a DVB-H receiver and are within the coverage area. These phones can receive the available programmes, if they are free-to-air. If they are paid programmes, users can subscribe to the service.
If the project is successful, DMC plans to operate the venture on a commercial basis. "The initial phase of the trial looks promising and the feedback on the content is positive," confirms Al Rustamani. "DVB-H is set to be one of the technologies that will define the future of media and entertainment.
"This initiative is part of our larger mission to introduce next-generation technologies in the region to advance the Middle East's media industry. The real value of this trial is to provide new platforms for both media and technology partners to showcase their offerings and expand their market share using the advanced infrastructure of the UAE, and be ready for Mobile TV."
The current Mobile TV trial content from DMC includes a mix of sports, music, news, business and entertainment. 12 TV channels are part of this trial and include Dubai TV, Dubai Sports, Abu Dhabi TV, MBC, Al Arabiya, BBC World, ART Prime Sports, Bloomberg, Zee Arabiya, Rotana Moussica, Zee News and Star Plus.