MANHASSET, N.Y. In a move that may portend dark days for the U.S. mobile-TV industry, Michael Schueppert, CEO of fledgling mobile-TV operator Modeo LLC, abruptly quit the Texas-based company.
Schueppert's resignation became public when Crown Castle International, Modeo's parent company, filed an 8-K report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Michael Ramke, Modeo's vice president of marketing and business development, has been appointed interim CEO.
Industry sources attributed the management change to Modeo's inability, over more than a year, to lock up carrier deals or even field-trial agreements for mobile-TV services in the States.
Schueppert, in a recent interview with EE Times, had acknowledged that "the largest U.S. mobile operators are not yet as fully engaged with mobile TV as we would like."
Verizon Wireless, whose CDMA-based cellular business has been tightly integrated with Qualcomm Inc.'s technology, announced earlier this year its adoption of Qualcomm's proprietary MediaFlo, a mobile-TV spec that competes directly with the DVB-Handheld standard embraced by Modeo. Other U.S. wireless carriers are said to be leaning toward MediaFlo or to have remained noncommittal.
While the management change at Modeo suggests larger structural problems in the U.S. mobile TV market, a source close to Modeo said it was too early to write DVB-H's "obituary." The source said the Modeo move had stemmed from a management failure and not any technological failing on the part of DVB-H.
Several countries have rolled out commercial mobile-TV services using DVB-H since the summer. "DVB-H is a field-tested, field-proven, well-validated technology," the source added.
With no apparent support from the U.S. carriers, Modeo will go it alone in the first quarter when it launches a DVB-H-based mobile-TV network in New York. While the move may generate buzz, Modeo is said to be in dire need of fresh investment from new partners, private equity firms or venture capitalists, sources said. For the time being, Crown Castle is standing by Modeo for the New York service launch. But Crown Castle, whose core business is in managing cellular towers and tower sites, may not be interested in supporting Modeo over the long haul, sources said.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm's MediaFlo USA subsidiary is poised to run its service across 6 MHz of bandwidth in the 700-MHz range on UHF channel 55. But it's far from clear whether Qualcomm will reap any significant revenue from mobile TV during calendar 2007.
To complicate matters, the U.S. cellular industry has seen the emergence of yet another player, HiWire Mobile. That company has scheduled a DVB-H broadcast trial in Las Vegas that will operate in the 700-MHz bandMediaFlo's territory. (Modeo owns 5 MHz of spectrum in the 1,670- to 1,675-MHz range.)
Some observers questioned whether the market is in a position to sustain another entry.
A spokeswoman for Modeo said Schueppert would stay with the company until the end of this month to ensure a smooth management transition.
"We are on track with the New York City [mobile-TV service] rollout," she added.