Inside MediaFLO’s Operations Center—And the Race to Deploy Over-the-Air Mobile TV Service

3/10/09Follow @bvbigelow

The digital broadcast center for Qualcomm’s MediaFLO mobile TV service is a hushed, dimly lit room in San Diego that is dominated by 24 flat-screen, rear-projection screens mounted along one wall. The engineers in the room face these ever-changing displays at work stations equipped with even more flat-panel screens, so the darkness is illuminated by a mosaic of streaming video images and computer-generated data.

I recently took a tour of this sophisticated, high-tech facility to get a feel for what it takes to broadcast TV programs to mobile devices nationwide. Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) began developing the underlying technology for this ambitious business more than seven years ago. In 2007, when Qualcomm announced it was ready to begin its mobile TV service, the company said it had spent $800 million over the previous five years.
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Today MediaFLO is transmitting full-length TV programs and movies, along with occasional live broadcasts of news and sports to wireless handheld devices in 65 markets throughout the United States. As impressive as the technology is, though, MediaFLO has yet to gain wide acceptance, and Qualcomm still faces significant risks from rivals who hope to gain ground on the San Diego telecom giant.

Qualcomm had planned to significantly expand its MediaFLO service to an additional 40 U.S. markets immediately after Feb. 17. That was when TV stations across the country had been expected to shut down their analog broadcasts on UHF Channel 55 in a long-planned conversion to digital technology. But Qualcomm’s plans for MediaFLO, which uses the same spectrum as Channel 55, were set back after the government postponed the nationwide digital TV conversion date until June 12.

The extent of Qualcomm’s efforts to develop the technology can be seen on the screens of the company’s network operations center. Some displays continuously monitor … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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