So it’s been made official, Qualcomm is shuttering the direct to consumer FLO TV service. Good. That means the company can move on to bigger and better things.
Qualcomm is a savvy company, but the whole idea of mobile TV in the U.S. has been shaky since the start and it doesn’t seem like a good fit for most companies, let alone Qualcomm. In a way it reminds me of the Iridium disaster, but with less hype. In both instances, I think the core issue was misguided use case.
What is the compelling use case for mobile TV in the United States? Would it work for common smartphones, netbooks or media tablets? Mobile handsets will never have enough real estate to make those devices anything other than an option of last resort. Media tablets, netbooks and connected laptops make more sense, but will there be enough addressable market to support a positive business case? And when would consumers choose to watch TV on these devices over larger, cheaper, higher resolution TVs? At the airport? At your kid’s soccer game? Are consumers that desperate? Then there’s the issue of content. Suppliers have struggled with providing the same content at the same time as cable and broadcast, instead offering new lineups or DVR-like services.
It is estimated that Qualcomm has invested around $800 million in FLO, $683 million of that in the spectrum. They aren’t going to lose all of that money. Qualcomm is rethinking what they can do with that spectrum, and have said they are exploring the potential to offer a more general data delivery platform for connected devices, most likely through the established mobile operators. The frequencies are separate from those which the mobile networks use, so the platform could provide bandwidth congestion relief. While it’s too early to say definitively whether this will work, it sounds like a better idea.

So rest in peace, FLO. On to bigger and better things.