Firms plan to launch mobile TV platform
Partners bank on mainland chip technology for roll-out in time for Beijing Olympics
Israeli chipmaker Siano Mobile Silicon will team up with mainland handset-maker Huaqi and satellite server CMB Satellite to roll out a mobile television platform using mainland-developed CMMB technology in time for the Beijing Olympics next year.
If the bet is right, the market for CMMB chips is set to boom, predicts Alon Ironi, chief executive of Siano. 'We estimate the shipment of CMMB mobile TV chipsets could be around 200,000 to 300,000 units next year,' said Mr Ironi.
'After a year of commercial operation demand will surge and shipment of the chips will be 10 million in 2009. By 2011 over 30 million chips will be sold.'
The partners are betting that regulators will give the nod to the home-grown CMMB technology developed by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) as the national operating standard for all mobile television services.
Five contenders are still vying for selection as the national standard.
Mr Ironi said the decision to use CMMB technology in the new mobile TV handsets to be produced by the partners was based on the support it enjoyed from the government.
'The government will provide the mobile TV service on a single technical platform, which was aimed at creating economies of scale to drive costs down.'
The service will enable television viewers to receive live channels while on the move, viewed on a dedicated handheld device over the digital broadcasting network or satellite signal.
An investigation into a national standard for mobile TV is being conducted by four government bodies - the China National Standardisation Administration, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Information Industry and Sarft - as well as a number of mainland enterprises.
The five operating standards in contention are the DMB-TH standard from Tsinghua University, the T-MMB standard from Beijing Coastline, the CMB standard from Huawei Technologies, the CMMB standard from Sarft, and the CDMB standard from the China Radio Standardisation Association
CMMB will use both satellite and terrestrial signals to obtain effective coverage both in densely populated cities and in sparsely populated rural areas.
'Various parties have submitted mobile TV standards for qualification. This will lead to a slow pick-up in mobile TV services since vendors have no idea which standard to bet on,' said Wong Chi-man, a telecommunications analyst at China Everbright Securities.
'There has been no statement from the government that CMMB will be the only mobile TV standard in China, although they are aggressively pushing for its deployment before the Olympics. To date, there are at least three T-DMB trials and one DVB-H trial taking place in China,' said Adrian Tong, an analyst at Media Partners Asia.
Mr Ironi said at least two potential mobile TV service providers had expressed interest in the alliance's solution, and five electronic device makers were interested in producing the digital mobile TV handhelds.
The mobile TV handheld units would cost users US$200 to US$600 each, depending on the specifications and design.
He said the first CMMB digital mobile TV handheld would be launched early next year and would be equipped with WiFi connectivity. 'A mobile phone bundled with CMMB function is expected to launch in 2009, which may stimulate the growth of mobile TV as it comes with the mobile phone.'
The two largest operators of mobile services, China Mobile and China Unicom, were likely to 'sit on the fence' next year, and watch the popularity of CMMB, predicted Mr Ironi. 'If they see it becomes popular, we anticipate they will embed it into their new models in mass volume.'
Siano expected to be among the first two or three chip-makers to introduce products for CMMB, and the first to exhibit an integrated solution - UHF tuner, S-band tuner and CMMB baseband - all on one chip, he added.
Mobile TV is regarded as the next growth engine for broadcasters as it can reach audiences on the move and generate more advertising revenue on top of existing home television. Research firm TELE Analytics estimated that by 2010 the mainland will have 33 million mobile television subscribers, of which 70 per cent get the service from their mobile telephones.
The new service would probably compete directly with a similar service at present offered by China Mobile, the nation's largest mobile operator. China Mobile now partners with Shanghai Media Group to offer streaming video services to mobile telephone users through the existing 2.5G mobile network.
Users can either watch a live signal of a television channel, or select video clips of their favourite shows. China Mobile also plans to introduce a mobile TV service on the home-grown 3G TD-SCDMA network during the Olympics next year in a commercial trial of the TD-SCDMA technology.
On the mainland, only five state-owned media conglomerates - Shanghai Media Group, China Central Television, Southern Media Group, China National Radio and China Radio International - are allowed to provide mobile TV service.
The licensees can either partner with mobile operators China Mobile and China Unicom, to deliver the content to mobile telephone users through 2.5G network, or create their own subscriber base on the digital network on a 2.6 gigahertz spectrum or through satellite transmission.
According to Media Partners Asia, there are 13.5 million mobile TV users in the Asia-Pacific region.