Mobile Marketing: Progress at Last

Mobile Marketing: Progress at Last

Including mobile TV functionality in a handset isn’t just about dropping in another IC; designers need to consider the importance of standards, certification, and performance. Phil Spruce says careful design is needed …

Mobile TV is gaining market momentum. The reality is, however, that tuning-in video is not the same as receiving voice signals, and broadband TV services are not cellular services with bigger channels. There are unique technical considerations when adding TV to a mobile handset, and, without careful design, the mobile TV function is very likely to fail.

Service and picture quality are the main things that early adopters will notice and comment on. If mobile TV devices are not rigorously tested or the environments in which they will need to operate are not fully understood, the future of the mobile TV market will be in jeopardy. The three keys to success in mobile TV we all need to work towards are standards, Interoperability, and performance.

Standards
Unfortunately, there is no universal global standard with basic system performance specifications for the components that enable mobile TV.

While laboratory validation is a necessary first step, it takes real-world broadband TV experience and a clear understanding of the inner workings of a mobile handset to make mobile TV work well. The danger to such a new market is that the quality of every mobile TV product has a direct impact on early adopters’ experiences.

Poor-quality first-generation products are likely to seriously damage the prospects of such a promising market.

Interoperability
The absence of Type Approval means that there is no industry certification process for mobile TV. In fact, there are no requirements that handsets be tested in any kind of standard way.

As a result, each company and design team will interpret a standard, and the result will be different levels of performance based on varying interpretations of the specification.

Laboratory testing is not an alternative to real-world experience and field-proven designs, and this is especially true in the mobile market with its challenging, often hostile, reception environments. Without an industry benchmarking process, subscribers will have different experiences based on their service provider and handset type.

For instance, one consumer might receive a very poor picture while the person in the next seat receives one that is perfectly clear.

Until there is a benchmark for comparing handsets, there will be different levels of performance. The lack of a verification process within the industry is a risk to interoperability, perceived service quality, and, ultimately, to market success.

"Without careful design, the mobile TV function is very likely to fail. …"

Performance
For mobile TV, the make-or-break device is the tuner. And, for a broadband TV tuner, the key performance metrics are sensitivity and selectivity.

The danger here is to think of mobile TV as another cellular application. GSM handset designers, for instance, are well trained on the importance of static sensitivity in the handset (which measures the ability of the mobile to detect a very small signal). But, if they are looking only at static sensitivity, they are missing half of the picture. Dynamic sensitivity and selectivity (the ability to distinguish the desired signal from the rest) are even more important.

Good dynamic sensitivity ensures that the tuner will be able to detect a small signal whilst the radio environment is dramatically changing due to large random radio transmissions. The most destructive radio transmission is from a mobile phones own GSM transmitter at 900MHz.

To be successful, the mobile TV tuner needs to have exceptional dynamic sensitivity and the ability to discriminate the desired signal from other TV channels or interference (selectivity).

The future
As with all functions in a mobile handset, the future of mobile TV must involve smaller IC packages and an overall bill of materials that require less board real estate.

The industry is moving rapidly towards a single-packaged solution, such as system in package (SiP). These SiPs can integrate passive components as well as a tuner, demodulator, and memory. In the future, as more radio frequency (RF) functions-including Bluetooth or Global Positioning Systems-are added to the phone, the nature of the components in a SiP may vary. For instance, all of the RF functions (tuner, Bluetooth, and GPS) could be combined together, while the other digital functions, including demodulation, could be absorbed into the application processor. While size reduction of the mobile TV functionality is very important, establishing global standards of high performance and an industry-wide certification process will significantly impact the adoption rate and ultimate market success of mobile TV.

Phil Spruce, Handheld Marketing Manager at Microtune Inc., has more than fourteen years’ experience in the RF and cellular semiconductor industries, focussing on emerging mobile phone applications.