EC approves French mobile TV grant

Study will research b'cast technology

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Thursday cleared a €37.6 million ($50.8 million) French government grant for Unlimited Mobile TV, a mobile broadcasting project.

The subsidy is the first EU government subsidy for the emerging mobile TV sector. It will be channeled from the French Agency for Industrial Innovation (Agence de l'innovation industrielle) into the Unlimited Mobile TV project (Television Mobile Sans Limite, or TVMSL).

The project, headed by Alcatel-Lucent, involves 10 other partners and will research the technologies of digital video broadcasting-handheld, or DVB-H, including the extent of its coverage and the number of channels it can broadcast.

The commission -- the EU's antitrust watchdog -- has strict rules on government aid for industries, but it welcomed the French initiative.

"This project will benefit European consumers by broadening mobile television supply in Europe," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.

EC officials held out the prospect of further grants, noting that the European markets for mobile television are still emerging and do not generate spontaneously the partnerships that are needed. They said the aid enables it to overcome market hurdles hampering tie-ups between satellite operators, terrestrial network infrastructures, mobile telephone companies and semi-conductor manufacturers.

DVB-H is fast becoming the standard for broadcast mobile television in Europe and parts of Asia because of the support it is receiving from Nokia. The Unlimited Mobile TV project aims to cater for hundreds of channels, and to ensure better coverage indoors and in remote areas. It aims to do that by making use of satellites that will work with the terrestrial cellular networks.

A partial commercial start is due at the beginning of 2008.