An early look at AT&T Mobility’s MediaFLO mobile TV service

RCR Wireless News
AT&T Mobility’s MediaFLO-based mobile TV service has not yet officially launched; after a couple of false starts, the carrier appears set to launch the service, along with a pair of devices, in the coming weeks.

However, RCR Wireless News obtained an LG Electronics Co. Ltd. Vu handset that supports the service. After popping in our AT&T SIM card, we were able to purchase the AT&T Mobile TV with FLO service as an add-on for $15 a month. The service launched immediately and was working without error in our Los Angeles office.

Unsurprisingly, the service offers many of the same features and functions as Verizon Wireless’ MediaFLO-based mobile TV (which runs on the same Qualcomm Inc.-built network). But what’s holding our attention right now is a channel on the AT&T programming guide with “CNCRT” as its call letters. “Coming soon. Concerts exclusively on AT&T Mobile TV with FLO,” the screen reads alongside a stock photo of Avril Lavigne. No sound, no moving pictures yet, just that single image staring back at us.

AT&T declined to comment on what content will make its way to the channel once it’s live, but we’ve seen a few ads on the channels indicating bands like U2 and Dave Matthews Band might be hitting our LG Vu’s touchscreen soon. AT&T promises we’ll know more once the service launches.

We also had fun comparing the service with our at-home programming. Network shows are re-broadcast multiple times throughout the day on the MediaFLO deck, for instance. CNN and ESPN frequently use larger, full-screen text blocks to make news nuggets easier to read. And, audio and video quality has been consistent when there is a solid signal for the service while some pockets we visited in the Los Angeles and Orange County area went completely dark. At times, one channel would come in clear, then another would take awhile to acquire a signal.

After waiting more than a year since Verizon Wireless launched MediaFLO services last March, we’ve been holding out hope that AT&T had something more compelling up its sleeve to throw into the mix. And so, we’re anxious to see what AT&T has in store for the concerts channel. It was nice to see CNN recently added to the lineup (it’s election season, and we’re news junkies after all), but we’re having a hard time watching PIX, Sony Pictures Television’s channel. We’ve seen “Christine,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Flatliners” re-aired numerous times and hope the company plans to include much more of its extensive catalog before the service goes primetime.

From what we’ve seen, we think AT&T has a solid broadcast mobile TV offering that can compete and perhaps outpace the reach of Verizon Wireless’ Vcast Mobile TV. With the concerts channel and (hopefully) more services like datacasting on the way from MediaFLO, mobile TV just might strike the chord it’s failed to strum thus far.

Interestingly, AT&T’s mobile TV effort lands in a somewhat crowded space. Players range from SlingPlayer Mobile to MobiTV Inc. and GoTV Networks Inc., all of which run over carriers’ current cellular networks. And then there are TV broadcasters that might launch their own, independent service. Even Dish Network Corp., which is affiliated with Sling Media, has made a bet on wireless spectrum and announced a mobile TV trial soon .

As for MediaFLO, the service has suffered continued delays as Qualcomm waits for TV broadcasters to clear up the spectrum and move to digital-only broadcasts. Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs lamented the sluggish pace of MediaFLO at a conference last month.

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