Since the launch of terrestrial DMB services in Seoul on December 1, T-DMB handsets and other types of mobile TV receivers have been moving off retail shelves briskly. According to the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC), 101,000 T-DMB handsets were sold in December - and that doesn't cover many other types of receivers that have been put on the market.
End-users' enthusiasm for T-DMB is still not shared by Korea's mobile carriers, which have been reluctant to offer the service because they can't see it having a positive effect on their revenues.
'T-DMB will be big for makers but bad for carriers, unless they are small carriers,' notes In-Q Han, telecom analyst at IDC Korea. 'The business model is weak.'
LG Telecom, the weakest of the three carriers, was the first to launch T-DMB, seeking to gain a march on its rivals that forced the hand of the other two. KTF started to offer T-DMB handsets in January, but market leader SK Telecom is not expected to join until March at the earliest. In fact, it has required quite a bit of pressure from the MIC to get the carriers involved.
The Korean government and handset makers have high hopes for this Korean technology built on to the European DAB audio standard. Being the world's first mobile TV technology to go commercial is clearly a tremendous boost in the battle for T-DMB to dominate the world's mobile TV market. The main rival technologies, like Nokia's DVB-H and Qualcomm's MediaFLO, are only expected to go commercial in the second half of the year at the earliest.
In a manner now becoming very familiar, the Korean government has coordinated a drive to push DMB as a major future export revenue source. While DVB-H, for example, has gone through numerous trials, DMB has been rushed to market as fast as possible in the hope that first-mover advantage and lower carrier investment costs will enable it to steal European carriers right from under the noses of the DVB-H camp.
'In terms of commercial service, T-DMB is far ahead, and technically it is more stable,' says Peobmin Ryu, the MIC director in charge of DMB.
As handset makers supporting the other technologies struggle to ready their handsets, Korean makers are already expanding production and receiving export orders. One country where T-DMB could conceivably take off soon is China. Samsung Electronics already has orders for up to 500,000 units from Jolon Digital Media Broadcasting, which has said it will start trial broadcasting in Beijing on April 10, and Guangdong Mobile Television Media, which expects to run a test service from May.
Britain will conduct DMB trials starting in April, and Germany is planning extensive trial services at the beginning of May. Samsung is working with Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T- Systems to offer T-DMB handsets in Germany in time for the World Cup.
Not unsurprisingly, Samsung has not put all its eggs in the DMB basket. It has already announced handsets supporting both DVB-H and MediaFLO. Rival LG Electronics is also targeting the World Cup with a handset supporting both DMB and Europe's 3G W-CDMA standard.
Few doubt that 2007 and 2008 will see mobile TV go mainstream. A recent Credit Swiss First Boston forecast estimates that the world market for mobile TV handsets will hit 40 million in 2007 and will soar to 150 million units in 2009 - a figure that MIC's Ryu told Wireless Asia was conservative.
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