Mobile TV launch in mainland next year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2007, 12:00am

Competing technical format standards the major hurdle over which service to adopt

Mobile broadcast television, which uses television networks to transmit programme signals to mobile gadgets, is to be launched in the mainland as early as next year ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games, said Angela Chan, the managing director of Beijing-based mobile television solution provider i-Vision.

'The Beijing Olympics is a catalyst for the launch of mobile [broadcast] TV in the capital city by early next year. A total of three to four cities are testing the systems,' said Ms Chan.

Government-controlled Beijing Television is working with i-Vision and mobile-telephone operators China Mobile and China Unicom, to allow people to view their favourite television programmes on their telephones and other hand-held devices.

Other services, such as booking cinema tickets, buying sportswear or accessing information from government or other sources, were also included in the package, Ms Chan said.

Guangdong Television was working with partners to try out similar services in its region, said an industry source.

The government has issued several mobile television licences to the country's television stations, including Central China Television, Shanghai Media Group (SMG), the country's second-largest media group by revenue, and Beijing Television.

The country's first mobile television service operating in Shanghai, Dragon New Media, a unit of SMG, formed partnerships with China Mobile and Unicom to officially launch mobile television services in the city last month, after a trial of more than a year. Subscribers pay 10 yuan per month.

For SMG's service, programmes are delivered to mobile telephones by streaming or downloading video clips over the existing 2.5 generation mobile-telephone network.

'The quality is not very good. It also uses a lot of bandwidth. If too many people are using the service at the same time, it can slow down the service,' said Ms Chan.

The mobile broadcast television, on the other hand, 'is like a regular television set, which gets its signal from the air', said Ms Chan.

The mobile-telephone network is used only for providing interactivity and much less bandwidth is needed.

However, each telephone handset has to be fitted with a special chip to receive the programme signals. Ms Chan said that would not be a hurdle.

'Most leading foreign brands, such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, are already able to provide the needed handset as mobile TV has started operating in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Finland and elsewhere. Local mobile-phone manufacturers, such as Ningbo-based Bird, can also provide such mobile phones,' she added.

'As almost 60 per cent of consumers in China's major cities upgrade their handsets every 12 to 18 months, I don't think handset availability would hold back the adoption rate of mobile TV.'

About 53 million mobile broadcast television-enabled handsets will be sold in 2009, with the number in use by 2011 growing to 244 million, according to US-based researcher Infonetic.

The biggest hurdle slowing progress of mobile television adoption in China concerns which standard is to be adopted.

'There are many competing standards and the Chinese government is advocating its own,' said an industry source. 'The arguments go beyond technology to political issues.'

In Europe and Asia, an industry group that includes Nokia has been championing DVB-H. South Korea supports two standards, T-DMB and S-DMB. US-based Qualcomm backs MediaFlo.

In the mainland, the State Administration of Radio (SARFT) is pushing CMMB. A group back by Tsinghua University is promoting DMB-T/H. There are also other mobile television standards seeking approval from the Standardisation Committee, including TMMB, and IMMB, submitted jointly by CITIC & i-Vision and another one called CDMB.

Ms Chan said i-Vision's solutions were standard agnostic and they had integrated with several different television standards.

Another uncertainty lies in which party is going to lead the development - the television stations or the mobile-telephone operators.

'Both parties like to think they are the boss,' said the source.

Mainland television stations are regulated by SARFT, while mobile operators are regulated by the Ministry of Information Industry.

Ms Chan established i-Vision with partner Ivy Zhang in early 2004. Before founding the company, Ms Chan was a managing director at UBS for debt finance and risk management.

Ms Zhang is a technology expert at NEC IC Design. The firm has received an undisclosed investment sum from Shanghai-based venture capital firm Gobi Partners.