Analog still king for some mobile content

Many in developing Asian nations haven't made switch

BANGKOK -- For all the talk about digital mobile television, a surprising number of consumers in the developing world are still watching mobile content the old-fashioned way -- via an analog signal.

Everyone from parking lot attendants in the Thai capital to kitchen staff in Beijing to housewives in Indonesia can be found watching tiny TVs these days, many of them housed in dual-use mobile phones. What few realize is that many of these TVs are strictly analog.

And the 34 million analog TV handsets in the world at the end of 2008 could more than double this year, eclipsing the number of digital-enabled handsets out there, according to research by independent analyst Michelle Abrams.

That's good news for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Telegent. The maker of a year-old analog video chip for cell phones sold 5 million units in the 12 months ending Oct. 31.

"Lots of companies began to invest in mobile TV standards because they thought analog was not possible on a mobile phone, but the trouble is their content was not familiar to the consumer," Telegent corporate marketing vp Diana Jovin said. "To really create mass adoption of mobile TV, the first step is to get consumers to watch it on an existing broadcast ecosystem."

Telegent is betting that analog chips will be its main source of growth for years to come, predicting that 88% of mobile TV consumers in countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand will still be watching an analog signal in 2012.

In November, Telegent partnered with Chinese phonemaker Beijing Tianyu Communication Equipment Co. to launch the first TV phone that receives an analog signal and also works with the government-backed China Multimedia Broadcasting standard.

"The hybrid handset will allow China consumers to leverage the benefits of both TV ecosystems while the digital infrastructure is being deployed," Tianyu CEO Rong Xiuli said at the time.

Some even believe that the success of analog/CMMB hybrids could provide a test case for the market, ultimately benefiting both analog and digital mobile TV.

"CMMB is going to teach a new behavior to consumers so that when the 3-G develops there will be an audience," said Shanghai-based venture capitalist William Bao Bean, a Softbank China & India partner.

Bean is predicting a slow rollout for 3-G, since China only began granting licenses in January after years of delay. Leading carrier China Mobile's smaller competitors China Unicom and China Telecom won't see real business from the new mobile platform until 2010, Bean said.
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