Broadcasters blaze mobile TV path
Jolon and Oriental Pearl take the lead in offering new service ahead of Olympics while telecoms firms await 3G decision
Sports lovers in China can look forward to watching the 2008 Olympics on mobile phones and other devices following Beijing Jolon Digital Media's launch of mobile television last week, even as doubts remain on when third-generation mobile-phone operators will be able to offer similar services.
Broadcasters Jolon and Shanghai-listed Oriental Pearl Group have taken a lead in mobile television services in Beijing and Shanghai as telecommunications operators such as China Mobile and China Telecom wait for the government to resolve 3G licensing and standards issues before they can build the necessary networks. The low speed of second-generation mobile-phone technology does not permit video streaming, central to mobile television.
'We won't call our service mobile TV because our digital programmes, be it voice or video, can be displayed on many different terminals such as MP3, MP4, personal digital assistants and mobile handsets,' a Jolon executive said.
Even so, Beijing citizens can now use Lenovo's ET980 handset, which costs more than 5,000 yuan, to watch two television channels, CCTV and Beijing TV Channel 1, as well as listen to 12 radio music programmes.
Lenovo plans two cheaper handsets based on digital audio broadcasting (DAB) technology and the company said other handset vendors including Huawei, ZTE, Techfaith and Cellon were also making handsets based on DAB.
Jolon, the digital media arm of Beijing Radio Station, was formed in January last year to build and operate a DAB network serving Beijing with an 80 million yuan investment budget. Wang Liang, head of Beijing Radio Station, said it would put information such as public service announcements, traffic information and entertainment news on its platform from January as part of the build-up to the Olympics.
Shanghai-listed Oriental Pearl earlier this year conducted mobile television trials using digital multimedia broadcast (DMB) technology. The trials in Shanghai were based on South Korea's digital broadcasting technology, terrestrial digital multimedia broadcast, or T-DMB, according Liu Bin, an analyst with consultancy BDA.
The government has given permission for Jolon, Oriental Pearl and Guangdong Mobile Television Media, and Guangdong Television, to test mobile television technologies pending a decision on which to endorse as national standards.
'China has not yet finalised the national mobile digital TV standard for handheld terminals,' Mr Liu said. 'China may adopt a basket of mobile TV standards including terrestrial, satellite and streaming technologies. I don't think mobile TV will take off across China before the 2008 Olympics. Lack of co-operation between broadcasters and mobile operators is still a major bottleneck for mobile TV development.'
China has devised a home-grown proprietary mobile television standard called STiMi, to which it claims to have full intellectual property rights.
The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the media regulator, wants to have mobile television broadcast up and running in the first half of 2008, before the Olympics.
Mobile operators could also work with broadcasters and adopt a Euro-centric standard called digital video broadcasting hand-held. Dan Wong, vice-president of Nokia Multimedia China, said broadcasters could contribute content and knowledge of its local market while mobile operators could offer interactivity and effective back-end billing system.
Beijing is expected to issue up to three 3G licences next year. China Mobile and China Unicom are hoping that the technology will mean China's more than 400 million mobile-phone users will buy more value-added services, compensating for slowing voice-call revenue.