A Portable World Cup
by Michael Dumiak, FORTUNE Magazine

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Will soccer fans want to follow a ball on a two-inch playing field when the World Cup kicks off in Germany next month? That's what telecom operators are betting on with new services that promise to deliver real-time video to mobile phones.

Streaming-video packages of highlights, analysis, and coverage of 20 matches will be offered to owners of broadband phones by T-Mobile for a daily fee of $2.50 or $9 for the month. Similar offers are to be had around Europe. Meanwhile, live TV broadcasts to mobile phones will be available on a trial basis to about 1,000 journalists, mobile-phone executives, and business partners, who will be issued broadcast-ready handsets made by companies such as BenQ Mobile, a Siemens spinoff.

Korean mobile manufacturer LG will make its TV-enabled U900 handsets available to soccer-crazed fans, but only in Italy through telecom provider 3Italia. The handsets will sell for between $120 and $480.

Streaming broadband takes a video feed and uploads it to a server, which sends the feed through the cell network to broadband phones that are fast enough to handle the data transmission. But a streaming network slows down with high demand, and if use is too heavy, the servers can freeze. Digital broadcast for mobiles works like television.

The signal is sent through a modified digital TV transmitter to any subscriber who has a phone that can pick up the signals. The reception on the new devices is surprisingly smooth and clear, though regulatory issues and transmission standards need to be ironed out before service will be widely available, and battery life could be a problem. "It's a natural way to be," says Soren Haubold, BenQ's innovations manager. "Now I can be on the move and watch the match." That's a worthy goal, but it still may be hard to follow the ball on such a tiny screen. Top of page

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