Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) recently released a draft proposal for the release of two nationwide mobile TV licenses in 2010. The auction will be based on the principle of technical neutrality and has so far attracted a lot of interest from various industry players.
It follows the trial of mobile TV by five players in 2007–08. We see the proposal as a positive move by the Taiwan government to encourage mobile TV development. However, a clear regulatory approach will also be needed.
The principle of technology neutrality is the key to the scheme, allowing operators to use any mobile TV standard, and is one of three core principles aimed at encouraging the development of new technologies and services; the others cover efficient spectrum planning and the allocation of the licenses in a fair, open and efficient manner.
In contrast, European Commissioner Viviane Reding recommended a single standard (DVB-H) for mobile TV across Europe. Reding justified this departure from the principle of neutrality by saying that using a particular standard of DVB-H would help mobile TV services develop the economies of scale they needed to launch EU-wide services.
Reding also said that technology neutrality was a principle not a dogma.
Taiwan shares similar cultures and has deep economic ties with its neighbors. The technology-neutral approach will therefore bring some challenges for Taiwan, including reduced opportunities due to economies of scale. The standards most likely to be chosen in Taiwan are DVB-H and MediaFLO (developed by Qualcomm), which are different to the standards used by most of its neighbors, with CMMB in China, ISDB-T in Japan and DMB in Korea.
The prospect of the coming mobile TV licences has attracted the attention of various players, including broadcasting providers, 3G operators, ISPs, equipment providers and value-added services providers.
This time we are seeing players from various sectors showing interest, in comparison with the trial services where the most interest came from broadcasting providers. Five companies took part in trials in 2007–08, with regional mobile TV licences issued by the regulator NCC. Most were broadcasters, such as China Television (CTV), Public Television Service (PTS), Chinese Television System (CTS) and Taiwan Television Enterprise (TTV). The trial was ended in 2008 with the regulator failing to provide a clear policy for mobile TV.
This time around, 3G operators are also expressing an interest TV. Taiwan Mobile and Qualcomm submitted bids when the government originally announced the draft plan. Recently, Qualcomm and Cheng Uei Precision Industry set up a joint venture to target mobile TV services. With only two nationwide licences on offer in 2010, there is likely to be fierce competition during the bidding.
However, clear policy decisions about the licensing scheme must be made as soon as possible. Currently, the telecom and broadcasting sectors are regulated separately, via the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Acts respectively. Therefore, the most debate is around which regulatory area mobile TV, as a converged telecoms and broadcasting service, should fall under.
The Broadcasting Act contains some limitations, such as no foreign ownership and the restriction of players with government ownership from operating media. Therefore, under the Broadcasting Act, Chunghwa Telecom would be legally prohibited from offering mobile TV services since the government maintains an approximate 35% stake.
This might restrict the development of mobile TV, and thus the industry has proposed that mobile TV be regulated under telecoms rather than broadcasting legislation. We believe the uncertainty surrounding its regulation will hamper the take-up of mobile TV, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that an appropriate regulatory approach to converged services be developed.