In this month’s issue of Technology Review magazine, I wrote about television and cell phones. It was an interesting article to write – and, like many writers, I wish I’d had more space to discuss some of the larger issues companies are facing. One of the issues that was cut was wireless giant Qualcomm’s positioning in this emerging market.
Qualcomm has created a proprietary network that enables cell-phone makers to deliver streaming television directly to handsets. Other companies, such as GoTV and MobiTV, are using open standards that do the same. On top of that, European and Asian standards are being developed as well – creating another boondoggle for consumers traveling the world.
Here’s the rub: Qualcomm announced a joint venture with KDDI, Japan’s second-largest mobile provider, behind NTT DoCoMo – which could go a long way toward creating a massive, proprietary network for delivering television:
KDDI, Japan’s second-largest mobile operator, said it would work with Qualcomm’s MediaFlo multimedia services unit to set up a planning company with initial capital of 10 million yen ($85,200). KDDI would own 80 percent of the company and Qualcomm the rest.
Proprietary networks aren’t inherently bad. In fact, a good friend of mine has argued quite convincingly that sometimes closed networks can lead to more innovation. However, I’ve always been dubious that these types of deals were, in the long run, good for consumers. No matter what intentions are initially laid out, the temptation to force-feed consumers in order to drive revenues eventually seems to win out.