BEIJING Many Chinese unable to catch the
Olympics on television will watch national hurdling hero Liu
Xiang retain his 110 meter crown next week by simply switching
on their cellphone.
That, at least, is the dream outcome for the backers of
mobile TV, for whom the Games are a golden opportunity to
burnish the reputation of a medium that has failed to live up
to its potential since it was launched in 2004.
"For certain events, the most important thing is to learn
the result instantly," said Yun Weijie, president and chief
executive of Telegent Systems, a Silicon Valley semiconductor
"The quality of the images doesn't matter sometimes," he
said. "That's exactly the case with mobile TV and the
Telegent produces chips that let cellphones receive TV
signals free of charge. By the end of 2007, the firm's chips
were in use in five million handsets throughout Asia, the
Middle East, Europe and Africa, Yun said.
China accounted for half of the total.
"TV will become a standard feature for cellphones in China
by the end of this year, just like cameras," Yun said.
Watching TV on a cellphone is already routine in Japan and
South Korea, auguring well for the industry's prospects in
But mobile TV in China has long been criticized for a lack
of eye-grabbing content and bandwidth restrictions that have
left viewers frustrated waiting for their screen to light up
and -- as Yun admitted -- disappointed by the poor quality of
But things are changing.
In April, China Mobile (0941.HK), the country's largest
mobile operator, launched trials of third-generation (3G)
mobile services based on TD-SCDMA, a home-grown standard, in
eight cities, including Beijing.
Eager to show off 3G, China Mobile has bought some 40,000
mobile TV-enabled handsets and is handing them out to staff and
guests for the Games.
ZTE Corp (0763.HK), China's No. 2 telecoms network gear
maker, won a contract to provide about 8,000 of the phones.
"The original plan was to distribute the phones after the
games," a ZTE official said. "However, China Mobile decided to
do it before the games kicked off, because they think the
development of mobile TV technology has already reached a
The official declined to be named as he is not authorized
to speak to the media.
China had over 600 million registered mobile phone users as
of June, by far the largest market in the world.
Only 12 million, or two percent, of the users currently
subscribe to mobile TV, bringing in 4.6 billion yuan ($670
million) of revenue a year, according to CCID Consulting in
But the private consulting firm reckons both subscribers
and revenue could grow tenfold by 2012.
Studies by In-Stat China, a high-tech market research firm
headquartered in Arizona, show that over 60 percent of existing
cellphone users are interested in mobile TV.
"Nowadays, people's attention and time is segmented, so
they want multi-functional converged handsets," said Kevin Li,
In-Stat China's telecoms research director.
The cost of receiving TV is low, if not free, and
television is traditional family entertainment, Li noted. "So
copying TV content to mobile phones is attractive to many
people," he said.
Among foreign investors seeking to tap the China market is
Sheikh Sultan Al-Qasimi, chairman of Gulf Holdings. The United
Arab Emirates firm has already invested in mobile TV in six
countries, mostly in southeastern Asia.
One of Al-Qasimi's investments, Movaio Pte Ltd in
Singapore, has forged a partnership with China Teleformation, a
mobile TV content provider in China.
For Al-Qasimi, the attraction of mobile TV in China is that
it is largely protected from swings in the economic cycle.
"If you have a boom, people'll have money to spend, so you
have customers," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a recent
conference in Beijing. "When you have a downturn, you have more
customers, because they have nothing to do."
Whether Chinese will flick their mobile TV phones back on
if Liu loses his hurdles crown is another matter.
(Reporting by Michael Wei; Editing by Alan Wheatley and