World Cup seen key to mobile TV future.

The World Cup may be the catalyst for the mobile industry to push TV services on phones and tap new revenue streams, but operators need to get it right if mobile TV is not to get a red card from consumers.

Mobile operators across the world, especially in Europe, have laid out grand plans to show the soccer games on phones, some broadcasting them live to consumers as the industry continues to attempt to extend the limits of cell phones.

Analysts say using the World Cup as a hook to boost mobile TV services is a sound bet, given the popularity of the event worldwide and its potential to appeal to a mass market.

But the margin of error available will be thin.

"People will approach it with high expectations and a great deal of passion, so operators must get it right ... A poor service experience for such an event will tarnish peoples' impression of mobile TV," said analyst.

Mobile TV is increasingly spoken of as the next vital application for the cell phone industry, struggling to diversify revenues from sources other than voice and text messages.

Its success is particularly important for operators in highly saturated western European markets, where revenue growth and profits are falling because of intense competition and threats from cheaper technologies.

Industry analysts say a lot will rest on the month-long championship, which got underway in Germany on Friday.

"This year's World Cup will prove a major catalyst for mobile TV growth. It will give operators a chance to show what they can already do and test consumer demand," says David McQueen, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media.

Informa has forecast revenues of $300 million from users accessing streaming and broadcast World Cup games and services.

However, live broadcasts of World Cup games on mobile phones will not be available to the wider market, with choice of handsets limited, most operators still in the midst of trials and wider issues such as radio ******** still to be resolved.

Around 30 mobile TV trials are underway, most of them involving the Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld or (DVB-H) technology.

Hutchison Whampoa's Italian subsidiary 3 Italia plans to show all 64 games and has built a separate DVB-H broadcast network.

Most operators plan to stream games over their 3G networks onto phones, ensuring that it cannot be a mass market service. Streaming, as opposed to broadcasts, can be slow and can jam networks if too many users try to download signals at once.

This time around, the bigger test will be in proving television works on mobiles.

IDC analyst P***o Pescatore said the World Cup was a showcase "to show users the power of mobile".

"But the real growth will take place over the next five years," said Informa's McQueen.

"As soon as the 2008 Olympics, we'll all be much more prepared to watch TV on our phones and by the 2010 World Cup the infrastructure will be mature and one in 13 mobile phone users worldwide will own a mobile TV handset."