New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai, plans to allow mobile phone service firms to offer TV services on the move, using any of the four technologies available, and will suggest to the Union government that it hold an auction for allocating radio spectrum next year for such services.

Telecom and broadcast operators believe India is potentially a big market for such services given it has more than 217 million mobile phone customers and the popularity of cinema and sports here.

The regulator will be issuing its recommendations on mobile TV next week, having received responses from different operators and several telecom experts on its consultation paper published on 18 September.

“It may not be appropriate to regulate the technology for offering mobile TV in India. We would rather leave it for the operators to decide," said a senior Trai official who did not wish to be quoted.

“Not taking a call on technology standard is a good step by Trai, given that mobile TV is yet to make any beginning in the country," according to a Delhi-based expert on regulatory issues. “In Europe, we are already seeing backlashes against DVB-H—the technology mandated for mobile TV in the region."

TV on the move: While broadcaster Doordarshan is the only company offering mobile TV services in the country, other players have video download options riding on relatively faster mobile phone technologies. (Lluis Gene/AFP)

Currently, Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan is the only company offering mobile TV services in the country, using the DVB-H (short for digital video broadcast-handheld) standard. State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Zee Telefilms Ltd, and Star India, among others, have video download options riding on relatively faster mobile phone technologies.

According to the regulatory expert who did not wish to be identified, the government could allocate around 8MHz in the 700MHz frequency band, accommodating at least three-four mobile TV services companies. “The auction could at least fetch $500 million (Rs1,980 crore)," he added.

Globally, there are three main technologies for offering mobile TV: the MediaFLO (short for media forward link only) System from Qualcomm Inc., DVB-H and DVB-S (digital video broadcasting-satellite). In the US, both Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. offer mobile TV using MediaFLO technology. China has developed its own proprietary mobile TV standard called ‘China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting’, or CMMB. “With so many standards available, there is no need for India to look at developing its own platform for mobile TV," added the Trai official.

Another country, which will be taking the auction route for allocating radio spectrum for mobile TV and other digital broadcasting services is the UK. According to Ofcom, UK’s telecom regulator, the process of auction would get under way in March.

The reserve price for these auctions has been set between $1 billion for each of the sixteen 1.7MHz lots to almost $3 billion for the 12.5MHz lot.

“The overall benefit from the use of the digital dividend (spectrum for delivering digital services such as mobile TV) is estimated to be $10-20 billion of added benefit to the economy over 20 years," Ofcom said in a 13 December statement.

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