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DVB-H: Mobile TV Was The Next Big Thing: What happened?


DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast – Handheld) is a mobile broadcast technology that allows for the digital terrestrial broadcast of live television channels to a mobile phone. Years ago, it was the buzz for mobile television, but only a few mobile manufacturers got on board the train years ago. And only Nokia and ZTE kept the pace going long after others had walked away. But with the death of Symbian, even Nokia has abandoned the technology and no longer makes DVB-H phones.

What I am wondering is why the technology is not being seen on more devices, perhaps especially on devices like tablets that lend themselves better to multimedia consumption. At the moment, users who want mobile TV service on their tablets and smartphones have to buy a plug-in accessory e.g. like DStv’s Drifta or Nokia’s SU-33W to do so. Drifta itself is a DVB-H device, so the technology is very much alive. Drifta receives a DVB-H signal, then channels it to your device via Wi-Fi or USB. Long journey. Why not just put the technology directly in those devices?

Nokia N92 with DVB-H for mobile TV
Nokia N92 was the first cell phone with integrated DVB-H

While subscribers on mobile broadband services can stream television shows, the beauty of DVB-H is that it does not use a data plan. Simply subscribe to the service and enjoy available TV stations without a care about data consumption.

It is instructive to note that in 2008, the European Commission adopted DVB-H as the standard, a move that was intended to speed up the widespread deployment and adoption of mobile television on the continent. Industry watchers expected that competing technologies like DMB and MediaFLO would die off in the wake of DVB-H’s rise. They did. But Digital Video Broadcast – Handheld itself also died off.

DVB-H Cell phones and smartphones

The world’s leading mobile phone maker at the time, Nokia, rolled out a number of DVB-H handsets. They included: Nokia N77, Nokia N92, and Nokia 7710. A few other manufacturers, mostly small-time operations out of China, rolled out compliant models as well.

Clearly, the industry has chosen to go with the options that require an Internet connection. The video streaming industry, telecom operators, and Internet Service Providers globally (who stand to gain the most from video streaming) must have a powerful lobby somewhere. Whatever happened, the Digital Video Broadcast – Handheld standard is not going to revolutionize mobile TV. That ship has sailed.

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