Throwback: That time mobile TV on phones was all the rage

What’s your favourite way of consuming content either at home or while on the go?

Better yet, how often do you consume content from your phone?

Whatever your answers may be to any of those two questions, chances are, they’d be very different 10 years ago.

A decade ago, the feature phone was king, unlike today. Today, the smartphone is king. With the smartphone comes different capabilities that were just coming into the picture a decade ago. Like apps. Apps open a window to a world like never seen before.

Even better, while the likes of Safaricom struggled to put desirable content in the hands and eyes of their subscribers a decade ago, today, thanks to advancements in technology, they are able to not only offer affordable mobile data bundles to egg on habits like streaming but also other tools to do so. There’s Safaricom’s Fibre-to-the-Home product and the Gigabox, for instance, which make it a whole lot easier to consume content at home.

Safaricom is 18 years old today and while products like Home Fibre, the Gigabox, smartphones that go for as low as Kshs 3,500, affordable data bundles and more show the significant strides made over the years, things have not always been this way. A decade ago, one needed a rather expensive device in order to get to watch live football matches or their favourite music programme.

While Safaricom was aggressively rolling out its 3G network at the time, streaming content over 3G back then would be a costly affair to many a mobile subscriber.

Luckily, there already existed another technology that was just the right fit: DVB-H. A superset of the popular DVB-T broadcast technology that the country’s telecommunications industry regulator (then called the Communications Commision of Kenya, CCK) was already testing in hopes of a future mass deployment in the country (what later became the “digital migration”), DVB*-H (the H is for “handheld” i.e. mobile) allowed compatible handsets to receive digital terrestrial TV.

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Taking advantage of the said technology, Safaricom partnered with a number of device┬ámakers and, as we have noted before, Multichoice, the people behind platform that offers popular digital satellite channels, to provide its subscribers with an easy way to watch news, music and sports on the go. Special receivers in the mobile devices would be able to receive and unscramble the specific DSTV signal, just like how your digital TV at home (with DVB-T2) is able to receive all DSTV channels but you can’t watch them since they’re scrambled. In the case of DSTV, the catch was that for everything to work, the said devices needed to have 3G connectivity like the kind that Safaricom was then offering.

These devices were:

Nokia 5330

The Nokia 5330 was a godsend for many that had looked to own a “DSTV phone”. For one reason: It was more affordable than the other devices in Nokia’s stable that had such capabilities/features. Before the 5530’s arrival, DSTV access on Nokia devices had been limited to the brand’s N-series devices. Like the then popular N96. Those phones cost the equivalent of one’s two kidneys.

The Mobile TV Edition of the Nokia 5530 arrived at a more affordable price (Kshs 14,000) and for anyone looking for a Nokia, since the brand was everything back then, getting it was a no-brainer.

ZTE F900

The ZTE F900’s story is pretty much like the Nokia 5330’s. It was affordable and that’s why it found its way to Kenya. Of course, Safaricom had something to do with it since they were courting partners who could avail to them devices that their subscribers could use to access a service they had recently started offering exclusively: DSTV Mobile.

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Going for Kshs 5,500 then, the F900 provided the most affordable way to get satellite TV on the go.

ZTE F912

The F912 was the F900 but more expensive (it cost Kshs 9,000), better and more suited to the demands of 2010-11 as that era of mobile computing slowly eclipsed its sell-by date.

What set the F912 apart was its approach to content presentation. While it was flip phone (the Nokia 5330 was a slider phone), its tiny (by today’s standards, back then it was huge) display could rotate so that you could always share whatever it is you were watching on CNN, Channel O or Cartoon Network, with other people. If you have used today’s 2-in-1 laptop computers then you probably get what I am talking about.

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As earlier noted, of course, DVB-H, while still existing, has run its course and it is not surprising that back in August, Multichoice announced the end of life of DSTV Mobile. Safaricom had long since abandoned it in favour of empowering its subscribers to stream content using its fast mobile internet as well as by inking partnerships with streaming video-on-demand providers like Showmax.

Did you ever get to try out mobile TV back then?


*DVB = Digital Video Broadcasting


Snapshots sourced from this video

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