Entertainment service in automobiles is getting important new players. AT&T has revealed plans for a satellite TV service called Cruisecast. And MediaFlo, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications company (San Diego, CA.), is introducing a competing system called FLO TV, that is based on cell phone technology from AudioVox. The U.S. switch to digital TV will free Rf spectrum for the delivery of advanced wireless services such as FLO TV.
Current players in the automotive TV market include Sirius XM’s Backseat TV (also an AudioVox partner), an optional service from Sirius XM which offers limited video programming featuring Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network combined with the standard audio programming. However, the quality of the Backseat TV system has been a disappointment. At its best, the picture is poor, and sometimes it is worse than poor.
Sirius XM currently has more than 19 million subscribers, and its adoption rate also has outpaced that of the wireless and satellite television industries. But the rate of growth has slowed in recent years. Sirius XM gained about 10 percent more subscribers last year, compared to 27 percent growth in 2007 and 48 percent growth in 2006. Sirius XM is currently battling financial problems, holding more about $1 billion in debt ($559 million of the debt matures this year).
The AT&T Cruisecast system will cost about $1300 for the hardware, and $28 per month for the satellite subscription. The hardware requires installation of a small satellite antenna on the roof of the vehicle. At the price of the hardware, a security system should probably be included. The size of the antenna is approximately 10″ X 11″, and 4″ in height. The technology is sophisticated enough to buffer the signal for interruptions. If you temporarily lose the signal by going under a tree, overpass, or tunnel, for a period of up to 3 minutes, the service will not be interrupted. The picture is standard definition TV, not HDTV.
AT&T is partnering in the effort with RaySat Incorporated (Dallas, TX). RaySat has previously offered a similar system called TracVision that worked with DirecTV. The hardware for this system was even more expensive, costing about $3000. The antenna was significantly larger, and the system did not include the buffering feature.
Cruisecast system satellite technology is based on Ku band transmission, with a bandwidth of 500-600 kilobits per second. The antenna needs exposure to the southern sky to receive the signal. The antenna is receiving a signal from a satellite in geostationary orbit over the equator. There is an electronics module that interfaces between the antenna and the monitors. This module can go in the trunk, or under a seat. It is comparable to the set-top box for cable TV. A remote control included for changing channels on the electronics module via an Rf signal, so that line-of-sight is not needed.
Don’t look for Howard Stern on the Cruisecast lineup. Instead AT&T will focus on family entertainment, including the Disney Channel, Discovery Kids, The Animal Planet, Nickelodeon, The Cartoon Network Mobile, and Comedy Central. In addition, news channels from MSNBC, CNN Mobile Live and CNBC are planned. “Our target audience is families with children,” said RaySat CEO Yoel Gat. The Cruisecast lineup includes 22 video and 20 audio channels.
Car rental companies Budget and Avis plan to offer the Cruisecast service at some locations for about $10 per day.