Toshiba to End Direct-to-handset Satellite Broadcasts

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Toshiba will end its direct-to-handset satellite broadcasting service in Japan in March next year after several years of losses caused by poor consumer acceptance.

The service, operated by Toshiba-subsidiary Mobile Broadcasting Co. (MBCO), drew headlines when it first went on-air in October 2004 as the world's first direct-to-handset service.

A dedicated satellite broadcasts a signal in the 2.6GHz S-band that is strong enough to be received with an antenna built into a portable terminal so a dish antenna isn't required. The signal can be received anywhere within view of the satellite and city areas obscured from the satellite by tall buildings are covered by gap-filler transmitters.

Currently MBCO delivers 7 video channels and 40 audio channels and while it's been a technical success its failed badly in the marketplace. When it first launched Toshiba hoped to attract 1.5 million users within the first three years of service but there are only around 100,000 subscribers to MBCO today, almost four years since launch.

The service was hobbled at the start by the necessity to buy a dedicated terminal. In contrast TU Media, which operates a similar service in South Korea using the same satellite as MBCO, managed to sign up 200,000 subscribers in less than three months thanks in-part to the service being integrated into several cell phone handsets. More recently MBCO has seen tough competition from digital terrestrial TV, which delivers Japan's major broadcast networks at no-cost to cell phone handsets.

Closing the service will cost Toshiba around ¥25 billion (US$233 million) and the full impact on its business forecast for the current fiscal year is under review, it said.

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