/* ----------------------------------------------- Comment out annoying Snap... ----------------------------------------------- */

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Finland: MobileTV Struggles

I was struck this week by the news that Digita, the owner of the broadcast MobileTV license in Finland was struggling and had launched their network with extremely limited content and zero handsets. I was even more surprised when I discovered the technology used was DVB-H and the provider of the service platform was Nokia.
"Nokia is extremely pleased to see the start of commercial mobile TV roll outs that are based on open standards. Nokia strongly believes that mobile TV based on open standards prevents fragmentation of the DVB-H market and enables a healthy competitive open market,"
It is well documented that the release date of Nokia’s first Mobile TV phone, the N92, has slipped, but I wondered why Digita didn’t just go ahead and launch using the Samsung and LG models in use on the 3 Italia DVB-H network in Italy which after all had 145k paying subscribers on the 23rd August. The answer is that more than a DVB-H air interface is required to provide a mobile TV service.

GSM is much more than an Air Interface and contains two key functions: the ability to select a network and for that network to authenticate a user and authorise it for certain services; and the ability to encode and encrypt content in particular voice conservations.

Similarly, DVB-H needs similar functions for MobileTV to be attractive: channel selection and an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) to assist in content selection and of course very few content providers would be happy if the content wasn’t encrypted.

The problem is that the DVB standard seems to have forked into two opposing camps with regard to these two functions. One approach is called CBMS and is led by the typical payTV conditional access providers such as NDS and Nagravision; Nokia use an approach called OAI which is based upon the OMA DRM v2.0 specification. The 3 Italia network uses the CBMS approach with Nagravision products and the Finnish one uses the OAI approach. Therefore the phones used in Italy will not work in Finland – so much for DVB-H being a single standard avoiding fragmentation.

The other important point is that openness in encryption may be the preferred approach by Nokia but it is frowned upon by the PayTV companies. The PayTV companies have to learnt to their expense the cost of having conditional access cracked. In 1999/2000 the infamous cracking of the Mediaguard system caused chaos as counterfeit cards flooded the market and a big dent was placed on the economics of several PayTV companies. This was not cracked by a spotty youth working away in his bedroom, in fact it was alleged that NDS, a subsidiary of News Corp, did the cracking and posted the results on the internet.

Despite the urban myths promoted by the media, it is rare that an encryption scheme is cracked without some sort of inside help and for this reason security companies are themselves extremely closed. The most famous cracking case, the breaking of the Enigma Code, was only possible with the undisputed brilliance of Alan Turing and just as importantly by mistakes by operators, procedural flaws, and the occasional captured machine or codebook.

It doesn’t help the Nokia case that the GSM encryption, A5, is so weak and has probably been cracked by every half decent intelligence agency in the world. Although most conversations are not worth monitoring and therefore the lack of security in the GSM system never features much in the news. Although, Vodafone found out recently that having people monitoring calls on networks can be expensive when discovered.

For the DAB-IP solution that BT Movio have launched in the UK, I believe their solution is based upon Safenet. They have gone down the proprietary route rather than the OMA DRM v2 route. It also appears that MediaFlo can support various proprietary security systems such as Nagravision.

In the future, I think security will be a key battle ground for infrastructure and handset manufacturers in the MobileTV arena and it will be interesting to see how this evolves. I think the utopian solution is that each broadcast network chooses its own security products and the various handset manufacturers’ support all these solutions. However, it appears we are some distance from this utopia, especially in the “almost-open” DVB-H standard.