Ina Fried

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After FloTV Debacle, Qualcomm Finding New Use for Broadcast Know-How

When Qualcomm sold its FloTV spectrum to AT&T last year, many assumed that was the end of the chipmaker’s broadcast ambitions.


The spectrum sale, for nearly $2 billion, appeared to mark the conclusion of an expensive, painful chapter for the company, in which it tried and failed to build a significant business around delivering mobile television to consumers.

And, while it is happy to be out of that business, Qualcomm thinks it may have a use for some of that broadcast knowledge.

It is now working with a bunch of other wireless heavyweights on a means for cellular networks to automatically broadcast content that is being used by a large number of customers.

The idea has natural appeal. For example, one can assume that when the Super Bowl is on, say, that multiple customers in a single cell tower are going to want to watch it. And if even five customers there are tuning in, it is more efficient to broadcast a high-quality signal than it is to send even a separate low-bandwidth video stream to each device.

“All you notice as a user is the quality goes up,” said Neville Meijers, who once served as a general manager in the Flo business and now is VP of business development for Qualcomm Labs. Meijers said the company has been working to adapt the broadcast technology since it made the decision to shut down the FloTV service.

Broadcast could also be used to deliver software updates, or even to deliver premium content overnight that a consumer could choose to view, or not, the next day.

Of course, the challenge is to create a system that can automatically detect when multiple users want the same content, and automatically and gracefully shift into a broadcast mode. Qualcomm executives, though, say they have demonstrated early progress, and are confident that the technology will find widespread use.

For now, Qualcomm is building support for LTE Broadcast, as the technology is known, into its Snapdragon processors. It is also creating the necessary middleware software to allow the broadcasts to be managed.

At January’s CES, Qualcomm demonstrated the technology along with Verizon and Ericsson.

In Barcelona last month, Qualcomm did another demonstration, and announced plans to work with Samsung and Korea Telecom on the technology.

The technology should get early public tests next year, as Verizon and Telstra have also said they plan to do trials; Korea Telecom has announced plans to use it commercially, though they didn’t give a time frame.

So, why will LTE Broadcast succeed where Flo flopped?

“I think the networks need it more now,” Qualcomm Executive VP Peggy Johnson said on Friday at a breakfast meeting with reporters.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”