Virgin Lobster phone

Virgin Lobster phoneThe end is nigh for Virgin’s attempt to light up your mobile phone with images from the idiot lantern. Yes, following poor sales and the loss of a key battle in the format war, Virgin will be closing down its mobile TV service.

Virgin Mobile's television service (VMTV) originally launched in October 2006 in the flurry of a £2.5m advertising campaign featuring former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.

But the cash outlay didn’t translate into customers, as reports early in 2007 suggested that only 10,000 people had signed up to VMTV.

BT Movio, which was Virgin’s major partner in the service, said it was currently discussing the final closure date with Virgin Mobile.

BT blamed the service’s failure on the lack of handsets from big-name manufacturers.

"While the feedback from users on the service has been complimentary, Movio sales have been slower than originally expected, mainly due to a lack of compatible devices from the big brands," said an official BT statement.

That meant the only handset available to users of the VMTV service was the Lobster phone, and as our reviewer found it was a chunky fella.

“First of all, let's look at the phone's appearance,” the Absolute Gadget review said.

“It is larger than a lot of phones (around 140g), mainly we would think to squeeze in a DAB tuner, a TV decoder.”

Virgin’s use of a DAB tuner – normally used to pick up digital radio – to receive TV channels was another reason for the service’s downfall.

The European Union banged a nail into its coffin last week, when it announced it would back Nokia’s rival mobile TV platform, which uses DVB-H.

It’s not hard to see why the EU came to that decision, when Virgin’s DAB service only offered five TV channels and a larger selection of digital radio channels, Nokia’s DVB-H format could handle around 16 channels.

Before you feel too sorry for Virgon, the decision is worse news for BT – which is closing down its whole mobile television company, known as Movio.

However, a BT spokesman refused to rule out launching a mobile TV service using Nokia’s DVB-H format.

"BT will review market conditions for a DVB-H-based service periodically in the future but we would expect the technology and spectrum situation to be different," the spokesman said.

BT Movio had originally talked up its hopes for VMTV, based on the rave reviews it was getting from people in its London trial.

"Initial trials have shown customers are not only excited about receiving this service, but would actively look to attain it," the now defunct Movio website said.

"In fact, more than a third of pilot users said they would be willing to leave their current network to get digital TV and DAB radio, to this quality, in the palm of their hands."