The Hong Kong government will go ahead with its long-delayed digital terrestrial television plan despite not knowing which standard the mainland will adopt. 'We've been waiting for three years for China to finalise its decision on which digital TV standard to adopt,' Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau (Communications and Technology) permanent secretary Francis Ho said yesterday. 'It had come to a point to decide whether we should keep waiting indefinitely or should we move.' The government will start rolling out its digital terrestrial television service in 2006, and will free up four single-frequency network multiplexes to lure four new players to apply for the licences. It is hoping to complete the migration to digital television by 2008. Digital television is a progression from the traditional analogue transmission signal and takes up less frequency spectrum while offering higher picture quality. It also allows innovative add-on services such as internet access, a paging service and other telecommunication services. Each frequency can be used to transmit four standard definition television channels with picture quality similar to a digital versatile disc (DVD) or one high definition television (HDTV) channel, a much higher resolution display quality. Mr Ho said China was developing its own digital television standard and was targeting 2005 for its introduction. Therefore, Hong Kong's plan to migrate to digital television in 2006 would still match the mainland if it did not face further delays. However, Hong Kong's two terrestrial television broadcasters - Television Broadcasts and Asia Television - reiterated it was crucial to wait for China's decision before Hong Kong went ahead with its plan. Although countries such as Britain and Sweden launched digital television services in the late 1990s, they had only recorded single digit penetration rates because of the high cost of an HDTV set. An HDTV can easily cost up to US$4,000, compared with less than $200 for most conventional sets. The proposal allows all licensees to apply for digital terrestrial television licences. Previously, it was restricted to domestic television licensees. This means broadcasters such as existing pay-television licence holders and non-domestic television licensees such as Star TV and Phoenix TV can apply. The proposal has allocated one multiple frequency network for TVB and ATV to share. They will also be allowed to apply for additional licences if they want to provide add-on services. However, analysts and industry experts did not expect the availability of four frequencies to draw much interest. 'I'll be surprised if there is a lot of interest. I think it will be niche operators [which will be interested in bidding for the licences],' CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets analyst Danie Schutte said.