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Will mobile TV in China be in analog?

Posted: 07 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:analog mobile TV? digital mobile TV? China market? CMMB standard?

As the Beijing Olympics nears, the mobile TV market is expected to skyrocket. However, the picture has been complicated by the arrival of Telegent Systems, which is claims that analognot digitalTV will dominate the mobile TV market, especially in developing countries like China.

In an interview, Weijie Yun, CEO and co-founder of Telegent, said, "During the Olympics, it's the China government's intention to demonstrate the nation's readiness for the digital age," including China's homegrown China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting (CMMB) digital mobile TV standard. CMMB offers mobile TV broadcasts based on hybrid satellite-terrestrial coverage.

"But in reality," he added, "what makes mobile TV successful in China or in any other country is the combination of two factors: free, over-the-air broadcast content and mass deployment of mobile TV handsets."

Calling China's mobile TV push "free PR from the government," Telegent's CEO said his strategy is to ride the hype while promoting its CMOS-based analog TV tuner chip. The device has so far been designed into handsets from China companies ZTE and Konka. The latter is a TV maker that recently said it will diversify into the mobile phone business.

Not everyone agrees with Telegent's strategy, however. Alon Ironi, CEO at Siano Mobile Silicon, an Israeli company, said analog TV is dead. "Nobody is going back to analog."

Frank Dickson, chief research officer at MultiMedia Intelligence, agreed. "In terms of analog mobile TV, it just does not make sense," adding that "it is not a technology issue, it's a business-model issue."

Wider market
Telegent hasn't completely abandoned digital mobile TV. "We've been working on CMMB for the last two and half years," Yun said, noting that Telegent was the first company to demonstrate CMMB in April 2007. The demo used a ZTE handset integrated with Telegent's CMMB tuner and a separate demodulation chip from Timi.

While Telegent is not disclosing its plan for CMMB-based mobile TV chips, Yun insists that analog mobile TV has more market strength than observers think. "Our company's key strategy it to get market timing, which is so dependent on the [mobile TV] network infrastructure build-out, out of the equation," Yu said.

Indeed, Europe's DVB-H standard, for example, has been dragged by the slow rollout of DVB-H infrastructure.

Profit question
Since launching its first analog mobile TV tuner chip last year, Telegent claims it has shipped 5 million units in the last nine months. Ninety-nine percent of its chips are integrated into handsets, either GSM, GPRS, Edge or CDMA phones. "There are already 15 mobile handset models capable of receiving analog TV broadcast using our chip," claimed Yun. Most analog TV handsets have been sold in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, he added.

Telegent's critics raise two questions: Who will cover the cost of adding analog TV receiver capabilities to a mobile handset and who will profit from it?

Market analyst Dickson said, "The driving force of digital mobile TV, with a few exceptions, has been the promise of reoccurring subscription revenue streams. As a result, there is a promise of a premium profit for the champion."

In contrast, "Analog mobile TV would depend on the handset receiving free-to-air signals, monetized via traditional advertisers," Dickson added. "There are no pay-TV subscription revenues. There is no additional revenue for the operators." Profit potential would be limited to mobile operators being able to charge a premium for handsets, he noted.

Yun is untroubled by that scenario, saying the total BOM to integrate an analog mobile TV chip in a handset is less than $10. The total includes an analog TV receiver, surrounding circuits and an antenna. When translated into an actual selling price, the cost of an analog TV capability is $30 to $40, Yu said. Mobile operators could pass along to consumers the cost of that additional capability. "It reduces the mobile operators' subsidies for a mobile TV handset," he said.

China and Asian mobile operators are planning to add analog TV services in Q2 08. This is not expected to happen in the voice-centric U.S. market, but Yun noted that Telegent is talking to several European operators.

Industry observers note that analog TV draws a lot of power, because the analog TV broadcast standard was never designed for mobile TV reception. Yun said Telegent's chip, consisting of an analog TV tuner, demodulator, decoder, scaler and a custom DSP designed to run a proprietary algorithm, is meant to lower power consumption and enable "stable" mobile TV reception even on a bullet train.

The CMOS chip, fabricated by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., consumes 250mW. Yun said that translates into 6hrs continuous analog TV viewing on cellphone, assuming no voice calls in between.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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