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Major China telecom picks AVS for IPTV rollout

Posted: 01 Jan 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:AVS? Audio Video Coding Standard? IPTV? H.26? China Netcom?

Score one for the underdog. Backers of China's domestic codec scored a minor, but cherished, victory when the country's second-largest wired-telecom company picked it over H.264 for an IPTV rollout.

The design win at China Netcom gives the Audio Video Coding Standard (AVS) the break it needs to stay alive in a world quickly becoming dominated by MPEG-4/H.264. It also signals that the China government, where possible, will actively support commercialization of its standards through the influence it wields as a regulator and major shareholder in the country's larger enterprises, such as Netcom.

"They are China companies, so if there is a national standard, they should consider it thoroughly as part of their decision, not just pick this one or that one," said Huang Tiejun, secretary general of the AVS Working Group.

AVS is among a handful of domestic standards that China is promoting to lessen its reliance on foreign intellectual property. If the strategy is successful in the long run, it will shift the flow of royalties and fees into the coffers of local, rather than foreign, companies and help to build up domestic technology.

With Netcom swinging behind AVS, chipmakers will have to consider the codec seriously. Until now, the number of developers has been small. Three design houses in China have silicon: Celestial Semiconductor, Grandview Semiconductor and Longjing Microelectronics. In addition, Broadcom Corp. is planning to release a chip supporting AVS in the spring, Huang said.

Wait and see
STMicroelectronics (ST) has been waiting to see if AVS will be used in the satellite STB market, but because that's still unclear, ST has not committed to developing chips.

Currently, China Netcom is running IPTV trials in five cities. One uses AVS while the other four use the more popular H.264. Netcom, which is controlled by the government, said it will convert from H.264 to AVS as soon as the codec finishes testing. The government was to start another round of AVS tests in November that should wrap up this month.

Interestingly, Huang acknowledged that AVS is not cheaper to implement than H.264. But he believes it will be in the long run. "The operators are thinking of the cost of the system over the next 10 years, so we cannot just consider today's cost," he said. As part of the transition, Netcom said it will favor equipment providers that are willing to offer free upgrades to AVS in exchange for the chance of long-term contracts. "Netcom will convert the risk to the equipment providers in the early stage," said Gao Wen, also a secretary general of the AVS Working Group.

Ball players
Two domestic suppliers that may play ball to get the business are Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd and ZTE Corp. Huawei declined to disclose its strategy. ZTE said it won't offer a free upgrade, but is willing to negotiate to ease the transition. "We will share the risk in the exploration of this new field because we believe that ZTE will gain return in the long run," said Yu Yifang, manager of ZTE's networking division.

Netcom plans to use AVS-based IPTV in 20 cities this year, and hopes for 6 million AVS-based IPTV users in five to seven years, or 40 percent of its current broadband users. A recently released mobile-TV specification in China, known as CMMB, also uses AVS. China Telecom, the largest domestic telecom company, favors H.264, believing it to be a more mature standard.

AVS backers say the codec is similar to H.264 in terms of technical performance. Unlike MPEG-4/H.264, however, the AVS group probably will not charge "participation fees" to use the codec for subscription-based services, over-the-air free broadcasts or duplication of content on a title-by-title basis. AVS is currently being considered for part of a global IPTV standard being drafted by the ITU.

Mike Clendenin
EE Times

Cai Yan in Shanghai contributed to this story.

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