Japan to begin mobile satellite broadcasting

Mobile Broadcasting (MBCO) will launch its satellite broadcasting service on 20 October, with mobile receivers available in...

Mobile Broadcasting (MBCO) will launch its satellite broadcasting service on 20 October, with mobile receivers available in November.

It will be the world's first satellite digital broadcasting service to deliver audio, video and data directly to portable, handheld devices.

The service will provide seven video channels, 30 audio channels and a data service, and users will have an initial choice of two types of receivers, one provided by Toshiba and the other by Sharp. Both devices were on display at Ceatec Japan 2004 this week.

The Toshiba model is a basic version, while the Sharp model provides more functions at a slightly higher price.

Toshiba's MTV-S10 will be on sale in Japan from 1 November for about ¥60,000 (£303), said Takao Ninomiya, manager of MBCO's mobile product platform group.

The unit is 99.8mm wide, 112mm long and 31.9mm thick and weighs 320g with battery included, according to MBCO.

The model has a 3.5in TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) screen with 320 pixels by 240 pixels resolution, and has an SD (Secure Digital) memory card slot. When running on batteries, it can play a movie or music for a maximum of 105 minutes, but this time increases to 165 minutes if users are playing contents stored on an SD memory card, the company said. 

"The usual commute time for Japanese [people] is about one hour each way, so we think this is enough," said Ninomiya.

Toshiba plans a series of improvements for second-generation model that could go on sale in 2005, said Hiroshi Sawabe, senior engineer at the company's hardware engineering centre.

One possible improvement will be replacing the LCD with an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen. This technology will provide brighter and clearer pictures, make the screen thinner because OLEDs do not need backlights, and reduce the next-generation player's power consumption, he said.

The company is also considering combining a terrestrial digital tuner on future models as well.

Other features on Toshiba's next model are similar to those available on Sharp's first-generation model.

That model is the 4E-MB1. It will be on sale from 19 Novomber for about  ¥70,000, according to Toshio Nakamura, a member of MBCO's engineering department.

The model is 86.8mm wide, 152mm long and 27.5mm thick and comes with a 3.6in active matrix QVGA (320 pixels by 240 pixels) resolution LCD, and weighs 335g with its battery, according to Sharp. 

The model is packed with functions that make it more like a personal multimedia centre rather than a portable satellite receiver, said Hiroyuki Naganuma, a member of Sharp's planning division. As with Toshiba's version, it only supports the SD memory card, but users can also play MP3 audio and Mpeg-4 video and view Jpeg images, he said.

MBCO's services will broadcast from a satellite on the S-band frequency at 2.6GHz. Signals are strong, so receivers do not need dishes or big antennas, according to the company.

The monthly subscription fee is ¥400, and monthly fees for optional channels range from ¥300 to ¥2,080. The company estimates that the break-even point for the service is 1.5 million users, and its aiming to sign up two million users in three years.

Contents include programs from Japanese public broadcaster NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai) and cable channels such as MTV Japan and all-news NNN24.

Paul Kallender writes for IDG News Service

Read more on Mobile hardware