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Mobile TV rises from the ashes – Market leader takes on cash to rekindle US

Mobile TV chip leader Siano Mobile Silicon has just taken another $20 million on board, interestingly enough to attack the US market


Published: 26 May, 2011


Mobile TV chip leader Siano Mobile Silicon has just taken another $20 million on board, interestingly enough to attack the US market. Given that Siano had reached almost cash break-even when we last spoke to it, this means that it intends a huge push into the ATSC market in the US, very likely the more power efficient Mobile Handheld version (ASTC M/H).

We have long been fans of ATSC M/H. It is intrinsically better suited to the US market than DVB-H or MediaFLO since the mobile version of a TV channel is sent in the same spectrum, from the same transmitters, as local TV broadcasts. So instead of one player spending $1 billion, like Qualcomm did at FLO, to build a single network for multiple TV channels, each TV station has to spend about $150,000 per channel, per transmitter, for a new digital exciter, and that’s about it. This is a bill that can be picked up by broadcasters and programming can therefore be delivered for free, something that is always needed to trigger broadcast mobile TV, which so far has only taken off in Japan, Korea, China and Latin America. Siano is the dominant mobile TV chip supplier in China and strong in Latin America too, and has customers in all of these territories.

All broadcast mobile markets flounder on the issue of who will build the network or who will supply the handsets that will receive the TV broadcasts. But in a world going through Tablet frenzy, the idea of NOT having TV on a portable device with a 7 inch or 10 inch screen, seems nonsense. A great number of words have been written about using WiFi and broadband and even cellular to bring video to portable devices, but it’s too bandwidth hungry to do this one user at a time and if the US broadcasting industry failed to take advantage of ATSC M/H then it would miss out on the biggest opportunity to move into the 21st Century and become contemporary. This has the potential to reverse the drift away from the broadcast paradigm and allow broadcast to become less reliant on must carry rules to arrive over cable and satellite. Laptops and some tablets may push low power variants of ASTC rather than the highly sensitive and excessively low power ATSC M/H but with the exception of battery burn, the viewing results will be the same.

Instead of TV stations trying to co-operate with a single enabling player in Google TV or any other OTT service, and become beholden to them in the same way as broadcasting has previously relied on cable and satellite to deliver some 80% of its signals, broadcasters could have their own route to market across the airways, something enjoyed in most other parts of the world, but not the US because of its enormous pay TV penetration over other media.

The $20 million that Siano has raised implies many things. But all of them point to the slow machinations that have been going on in secrecy to finally bring ATSC M/H to market, working alongside its inventor, Korea’s LG Electronics. We know that more TV stations are lined up to offer mobile handheld broadcasts shortly, and Siano could make millions of chips with that amount of money and wouldn’t have needed to take anything like that on board unless it has customers lined up – which means handsets and tablets galore. Once one tablet has this, all of the others will have to follow suit, and if Apple decided that ATSC M/H was a competitive advantage, it might follow suit and legitimize the entire market and create an avalanche. Having broadcast video on a tablet doesn’t prevent WiFi delivered on demand also being offered – and other markets suggest the two go hand in hand.

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