Chinese regulator goes ahead with CMMB trials

Charice Wang/Ovum
22 May 2008

Earlier this month, the Chinese broadcasting regulator, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT), announced plans to initiate commercial trials of mobile TV, based on the China Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting (CMMB) standard.

The first three cities for the trial are the business centres Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. CMMB is a home-grown digital mobile TV standard applying to mobile devices, with features including free mobility, rich video and data services.

So far, SARFT has completed basic terrestrial CMMB coverage in eight cities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, Guangzhou and Shenzhen). According to the government plans, it will launch two satellites next month. It is expected that mobile TV services will be offered in over 30 cities during the 2008 Olympic Games, based on hybrid satellite-terrestrial coverage.

It comes as no surprise to us that the Chinese government is again supporting a home-grown ICT standard, following on from TD-SCDMA trials that China Mobile launched in April this year, although no timetable for 3G licences has been announced.

This also means that other technologies, such as DVB-H, MediaFLO and ISDB-T, will have less opportunity to grab a share of the Chinese mobile TV market in the short term. There has been lengthy debate about the national standard for mobile TV broadcasting in China, even after SARFT announced CMMB as the industry standard in November 2006.

Regulatory confusion has slowed down the progress of commercialization of convergent broadcasting and communication services such as mobile TV and IPTV in China.

Under regulations announced in 1999, the State Council clearly specifies that telecoms operators are not allowed to launch broadcasting services; in the same way, broadcasters are prohibited from offering telecoms businesses.

Therefore, two separate regulatory and policy makers publish their own rules in the areas of broadcasting and telecoms. Telecoms regulator the MII issues the certification for mobile handsets and manages spectrum and networks, whereas SARFT is in charge of all broadcasting and media content. The strong regulatory hurdles have limited mobile TV and IPTV development.

So what does this new move mean‾ There are two issues behind it. First, we see the coming Olympic Games as a good opportunity for mobile TV to take off, which is why SARFT is keen to officially speed up the commercialisation of CMMB-based mobile TV.

The Olympic Channel is one of seven free channels to be broadcast in the trial, and more free channels are likely to be launched for use in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

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