Tuesday 7 August 2007

Which Mobile TV technology to go for?

There is aa lot of confusion regarding which mobile TV technology to go for. An article in Telecoms Online gives an idea regarding which way the Chinese market is going for mobile TV.

A recent survey shows more than 40 percent of cell phone users in China like the idea of watching TV on handsets. Some pundits even predict the number of mobile TV users in China will jump to nearly 60 million in 2008, and revenue from handset sales and programming will generate 1.3 billion yuan (US$170m).

The road to mobile TV, however, most likely will be bumpy. Current trials have found several vulnerabilities, such as handset display hang-up when video content is loaded, short battery life and overheating, that must be fixed.

What’s really hindering mobile TV development in China (and, arguably, in other geographical regions), however, is lack of agreement on one standard. In June, a government agency overseeing the mobile TV industry reaffirmed CMMB (China Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting) as the official standard for 3G video service. The reason: CMMB is homegrown and completely free of foreign IPRs.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and TV developed CMMB last October, but a tug-of-war over the standard has undermined SARFT’s efforts to implement it this year. Despite a slow start, SARFT has obtained 25MHz in bandwidth on 2.5GHz for CMMB service and plans to build networks for the Olympics in six cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Qingdao.

The other contenders CMMB must fight are DVB-H (Europe), Media-FLO (United States), T-DMB (Korea), DMB-TH (a digital TV spec modified for handheld developed by Tsinghua University), T-MMB (Nufrontsoft, which is aligned with MII, the Chinese telecom regulatory body) and CMB (Huawei).

For now, CMMB appears to be most appealing because of SARFT backing. SARFT’s control of programming and distribution in China gives CMMB a huge regulatory and cost advantage over rival mobile TV standards.
Recognizing that CMMB has clout in China, a large industry alliance of 120 companies backs the standard, including heavyweights such as Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, and Chinese firms like Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE.

One of the main benefits of CMMB, according to SARFT, is that it does not charge royalties for two years, saving an estimated 1 billion yuan (US$130m) in foreign IPR payments. SARFT hopes the savings will encourage handset manufacturers to cooperate in perfecting the standard and expediting proliferation.

There are other concerns. Some Chinese standards are not really independent but a hodgepodge of foreign versions. Reports say T-MMB, developed by Nufrontsoft, incorporates certain core DAB patents like DMB that will be in effect until 2013. Critics say if Chinese handset makers adopt T-MMB they will have to dole out hefty royalties–about US$6 per set or up to US$120m to US$300m per year.

CMMB and T-MMB use different approaches to video transmission and delivery. T-MMB uses a streaming overlay on top of mobile infrastructure, so that it shares the total bandwidth and download speed for the service, like the current video service. CMMB relies on a tuner installed in the handset to receive video signals over the air.

The T-MMB advocates say adding a tuner will compromise other features affecting handset and overall performance, while the CMMB supporters predict T-MMB will be dead on arrival because video traffic will crash the network and cost will skyrocket.

The debate over mobile TV standards is not just about patriotism and technology. SARFT has jurisdiction over broadcasting via various media outlets, including handheld devices, while T-MMB is a brainchild of MII which, by default, only provides a transmission conduit to end users but not content and distribution.

The problem is that both sides see mobile TV as a golden opportunity but want to run the market on their own terms. At this time, the central government sees it as a market issue and is reluctant to provide guidelines, so tussle over mobile TV probably will go on for some time before technical issues are straightened out.

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