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A new device that is ‘half-TV, half-phone’ has been unveiled by a pan-European research consortium working on new mobile broadcasting technologies.

The Cismundus project is developing a hybrid system able to exploit the best features of wireless telecoms and digital terrestrial television (DVB-T) networks. This would give users access to TV, radio, the internet and standard mobile phone services from a single terminal.

A prototype Cismundus device resembling a tablet PC was on display for the first time at the IBC show in Amsterdam. It uses mobile systems like GPRS for one-to-one services such as phone calls and web-based transactions, while calling on the greater capacity and reach of the terrestrial digital TV network for high-bandwidth services such as video streaming.

Using custom-developed hardware and software, including a specially-designed DVB-T antenna, the terminal can switch between mobile and digital TV reception. The key to the Cismundus technology is its ‘delivery sub-system’, which allows the terminal to make decisions about the best channel through which to receive a particular service. For example, if the DVB-T signal is deteriorating the terminal could switch to GPRS.

The consortium behind Cismundus includes Brunel University, the R&D division of France Telecom, Philips Research Laboratories UK, Motorola Labs and IRT, Germany’s multimedia research organisation. Prof John Cosmas of Brunel’s department of electronic and computer engineering said Cismundus aims to make the delivery of multimedia services to mobile devices a reality by using the TV broadcast system, which is well equipped for the job, rather than mobile telecoms networks, which are not.

According to Cosmas, mobile technologies such as GPRS and UMTS, and including the slowly emerging 3G video phone services, will never be able to match the television broadcast network in delivering good-quality video content. They are easily overwhelmed by high demand, with a tendency to fall over when faced with a greater than expected number of users.

Cosmas said technology that allowed mobile networks and digital TV to work together would provide telecoms companies with the chance to offer new and improved services without needing to make vast investments in their infrastructure. ‘The choice is: do you spend a lot of money upgrading UMTS or do you converge what you’ve already got?’ said Cosmas.

The Cismundus consortium will now test the system’s performance in a range of real-life conditions. Trials will take place in Turin, Munich and Metz over the next few months.

The technology partners are also working towards incorporating the system into a smaller handset that would have lower power consumption.

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