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Will China mobile TV take off in time for Olympics?

Posted: 03 Jul 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Beijing Olympics? China mobile TV? satellite? terrestrial signal?

Looks like China's much much-touted mobile TV broadcast service will crawl its way to the Beijing Olympic Games in August, as it is missing one leg.

The homegrown Chinese system has been designed to operate by picking up two signals: a 2.6GHz satellite signal and a 700MHz terrestrial signal. However, no satellite will be operating in time to realize the full promise of the China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting (CMMB) standardtechnology also known as STiMi (satellite and terrestrial interactive multiservice infrastructure).

Missing satellite
EchoStar, the primary provider of S-band satellite capacity for China's mobile video project, quietly revealed in its 10-Q form filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in late May that it is suspending construction of the CMBStar satellite.

China Satellite Mobile Broadcast (CSM), a company overseen by the Wireless Bureau of China's State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT), last year selected China Mobile Broadcasting Satellite, a Hong Kong-based affiliate of EchoStar, as its partner.

EchoStar claimed that it already notified the SARFT of its intentions in April. The U.S. firm, however, has not explained why it suspended activities in China, other than saying that its decision is "pending, among other things, further analysis relating to efforts to meet the satellite performance criteria and/or confirmation that alternative performance criteria would be acceptable."

It remains unclear if any technical problems have surfaced or if the delay is purely a negotiating ploy by EchoStar or CSM.

Although EchoStar remains a viable candidate to deliver a satellite to China, a growing likelihood is that China will turn to its own satellite companies to launch a satellite in Q1 09.

EchoStar expects an impairment charge related to the CMBStar satellite of as much as $100 million, which "would have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial position," according to the company.

Largely ignored so far is the adverse impact of EchoStar's delay for China's fledgling mobile TV broadcast market. Nor is anyone declaring that the future of the CMMB-based mobile TV standard is in jeopardy.

Technology suppliers who have much to gain from the emerging mobile TV market in China are keeping mum, or downplaying the impact of missing satellite operation in the CMMB infrastructure.

Terrestrial signals to the rescue
The question is, will terrestrial signals be enough? Alon Ironi, CEO of Siano Mobile, an Israeli start-up focused on mobile TV solutions, said, "This will have no impact on the deployment of mobile TV in China."

He said that it's because "satellite is designed to cover the rural areas of China with CMMB-based broadcast signals." Pointing out social economic situations in China, Ironi said, "Terrestrial broadcast can cover large cities where the demand for mobile TV is more likely to be."

The pilot launch of mobile TV in China will be at the Olympic Games in August, with a plan to broadcast programs in more than 30 cities over a UHF spectrum band.

More important, SARFT, the biggest promoter of China's CMMB standard, is certainly not giving up the satellite operation.

Ironi said that every CMMB device "needs a SARFT certification," and "satellite reception is required for all devices," despite currently missing satellite signals, and "SARFT sets a minimum performance level."

Siano is one of the handful chip companies currently ready to supply CMMB-compliant mobile TV ICs to Chinese OEMs, and it's the only non-local vendor chasing the emerging CMMB market. Siano's competitors, for now, are China's home-grown chip vendors Innofidei and Telepath Technologies Co.

Innofidei, one of the original members of the CMMB working group in China, was the first to demonstrate its baseband chip last year. Innofidei, armed with its demodulator/tuner chip has recently partnered with U.S.-based NeoMagic, provider of the multimedia processor that decodes broadcast TV.

Telepath, a newly fabless company also focused on CMMB-compliant mobile TV chip solutions, has picked Infineon as its strategic partner and China's SMIC as its foundry.

Antenna edge
Unlike its rivals, Siano is the only one to offer a single chip solution integrated with both a tuner and baseband. Its high-end CMMB chip comes with an antenna diversity feature capable of connecting to two UHF antennas and two S-band antennas, for maximum performance. The lower cost CMMB chip supports only one antenna per each spectrum band.

While antenna diversity is not SARFT's requirement, Siano is hoping that this will ultimately set itself apart from others, especially in terms of performance.

The new high-end Siano chip, for example, samples the quality of the signal on all four antenna, picks the strongest two signals and then combines them on the chip, enabling an increase reception performance by using one satellite signal and one terrestrial, or both satellite or both terrestrial. However, don't expect the Chinese to start receiving CMMB signals on their mobile phones any time soon.

Siano's Ironi said that consumers will pick up CMMB signals to watch Olympic Games "on portable media players or adding USB dongle to their notebook PCs."

The next wave, expected this fall, will be "gray phones"not supported by mobile operatorscapable of receiving CMMB signals. CMMB-based mobile TV phones certified operators won't emerge until 2009, Ironi predicted.

Will China's homegrown CMMB eventually merge with China's proprietary TD-SCDMA 3G standard?

Interfax China last week reported that China's Ministry of Industry and Information (MII) is "encouraging cooperation between the CMMB mobile TV standard and TD-SCDMA 3G technology." The report, quoting an unnamed source close to the government, said that MII "does not favor T-MMB (Terrestrial-Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting), which is soon to become China's official national standard."

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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