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Philips bringing cell phone TV to states

Dutch company will sell specialized chipset in North America, and partnership will ensure content availability.

Royal Philips Electronics says watching TV on cell phones isn't just an Asian phenomenon.

The Dutch electronics giant now plans to bring its TV-on-cellular chipset to the United States. Handsets with the chips should hit North American shelves sometime in 2006. To ensure that content and content services will be available, Philips has partnered with Crown Castle Mobile Media.

Crown Castle has acquired terrestrial rights to 5 megahertz of L band spectrum and will launch a mobile broadcast network in 2006.

The company will show off the technology at the Computer Electronics Show kicking off on Jan. 5 in Las Vegas.

The company announced a similar chipset--which consists of a TV tuner, a decoder and peripheral components--for the European market earlier in the year. Three out of the six largest handset makers are currently building phones containing the chip for trials that will likely start soon.

Commercially, the first European phones should hit the market toward the middle of 2006, when the FIFA World Cup takes place, said GertJan Kaat, senior vice president and general manager of Philips Semiconductors' mobile and personal business unit.

The U.S. chipset is essentially the same product. "It is a small shift in the frequency band. The rest is all the same," Kaat said.

A few years ago, many looked at TV-on-cell technology as an expensive oddity. TV service began in South Korea in 2002, but the TV signal came over the cellular network, resulting in massive phone bills. Since then, cell phone makers have decided to integrate TV tuners into handsets. Service providers still charge consumers for delivering content, but overall, it's much cheaper.

"You see a lot of TV (on cell phones) in Japan," Kaat said.

Japan and Korea, however, rely more on public transportation than the U.S. or even Western Europe, which has prompted some to speculate that these devices may not do as well in other nations. Nonsense, Kaat says. Apple is selling TV shows to go with the video iPod, he noted. Screen size is also not as big a hindrance as some believe.

"To compensate for the small screen, the distance to your eyes is shorter," he said.

Still, broadcasters, cellular providers and handset makers need to iron out all of the commercial issues for delivering programs to phones.

"There are several different business models. The content providers need to experiment," Kaat said.