Eight years after it issued recommendations on Mobile TV (pdf), the TRAI has issued a fresh consultation paper on “Digital Terrestrial Transmission”, which seeks define norms around the transmission of broadcast channels through digital means, direct to consumers. This is the same type of technology being discussed, so it’s the same consultation with a different name. However, eight years have passed and we still don’t have anyone providing channels over DTT (apart from Doordarshan), so perhaps it’s time to make those guidelines more broadcaster-friendly.

Mobile TV being discussed here is not about the content delivered to your handset via a telecom operator or on the Internet. It is a direct terrestrial broadcast to your phone (or any other viewing device), being provided by a broadcaster, and does not lead to data consumption. Such means distribution of TV – Mobile TV instead of TV over Mobile – is (or was) in operation in South Korea. Multiple formats exist for Mobile TV, such as DVB-H (which was trialed by Doordarshan in 2007), S-DMB, T-DMB. From what I remember, there was even a demo of MediaFLO set up by Qualcomm at Delhi College of Engineering in 2008.

The fact is that the manner in which the Mobile TV guidelines were issued in 2008, it was impractical for anyone to roll it out, especially given that the norms for leasing of airwaves had still not been finalized, and it took a while for Doordarshan to shift from analog to digital transmission, which led to spectrum being freed up. Now that Doordarshan’s Mobile TV service is live in 16 cities, via DVB-T2, it is once again thinking of utilizing leftover spectrum. Allowing private channels on its allocated spectrum will allow Doordarshan to earn some money, and the government appears to be particularly keen on this, given that they have only recently agreed to allow 100% FDI in Mobile TV. Not a co-incidence that the TRAI is seeking views on the subject again.

The government also probably wants to move on from the Devas Multimedia Mobile TV scam. In 2008, $75 million was a lot of money. Notes from the Devas-Antarix agreement here. Devas planned S-DMB services.

The question for now is, given that the device ecosystem to support Mobile TV doesn’t exist in India, and that the infrastructure investment required would be substantially higher than DTH, would broadcasters really be interested? The only advantage that a broadcaster might have had is that it could ride on white-labeled infrastructure (such as a tower company) and reach viewers directly without an intermediary like a telecom operator or a DTH provider. The telecom operators, who would prefer that all video consumption take place via mobile networks will try and prevent this, as they did in 2007-08. More on that in another post next week, because I was there and I have notes.

The TRAI’s stated objective:

i). To examine the viability of DTT platform and services in the context of already existing multiple digital TV distribution platforms.
ii). To develop and suggest a road map for the transition to Digital terrestrial TV transmission/ Mobile TV transmission and also suggest the timelines for switching off the existing analog transmission.
iii). To formulate a methodology for digitization terrestrial TV networks
iv). To assess the spectrum utilization for existing and future digital terrestrial broadcasting services.
v). To examine the feasibility of participation of the private sector in the growth of terrestrial broadcasting ecosystem.
vi). To put in place a regulatory framework that encourages migration to DTT/ Mobile TV channels while ensuring transparency and a level playing field that facilitates growth in the sector.

Summary of issues for consultation
Q.1 Do you perceive the need for introduction of Digital terrestrial transmission in multiple broadcasting distribution platforms? Please provide your comments with justification.
Q.2 If yes, what should be the appropriate strategy for DTT implementation across the country? Please provide your comments with justification.
Q.3 Should digital terrestrial television broadcasting be opened for participation by the private players? Please provide your comments with justification.
Q.4 Which model or a combination thereof for Digital terrestrial transmission will be most suitable in Indian context? Please furnish your comments with justification.
Q.5 What should be the approach for implementing DTT network (MFN/SFN/Hybrid)? Please furnish your comments with justification
Q.6 What should be the criteria for arriving at optimum size of DTT multiplex at any location? Please furnish your comments with justification.
Q.7 How many digital multiplex per DTT operator should be planned for metro, major cities, urban and rural areas and why? Please furnish your comments with justification.
Q.8 What should be most appropriate frequency band as per National Frequency Allocation Plan 2011 for implementation of Digital
terrestrial transmission including mobile TV? Give your comments with justification.
Q.9 Should spectrum be exclusively earmarked for roll out of DTT services? If so, what should be the quantum considering the broadcasting sector requirement in totality?
Q.10 What should be the roadmap for digitization of terrestrial TV network in the country? Please provide your comments with justification.
Q.11 What should be the Analog Switch off date(s) for the terrestrial TV channels in context with the suggested roadmap for DTT
implementation? Please provide your comments with justification.
Q.12 Stakeholders may also provide their comments on any other issue relevant to the present consultation paper?