Samuel Sheng is the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of Telegent. Prior to co-founding Telegent Systems, Mr Sheng was responsible at LSI Logic for architecting and implementing a series of silicon RF tuners for video-band applications, and highly integrated DVD front-end technologies. Before LSI Logic, Mr Sheng co-led the ADSL front-end (AFE) development effort at Datapath Systems, Inc. Mr Sheng was named Inventor of the Year at LSI Logic in 2002 and 2003 and was named the 2002 Distinguished Engineer at LSI Logic. Mr Sheng has authored numerous papers and publications on various topics such as low-power CMOS RF wireless systems and low-power CMOS digital design. Mr Sheng has been awarded seven patents in the areas of RF tuner and DSL modem design. Samuel Sheng holds a BA degree in applied mathematics and BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
Affordable mobile TV is now in the reach of the great low-income masses in developing regions worldwide. Within the last two years, ‘broadcast’ TV receivers have been developed for mobile handsets and a variety of thin, low-cost, attractive handsets will be available prior to the World Cup in South Africa and the Cricket World Cup Tournament in India. Low cost handsets with TV receivers, free content and two exciting sports events should finally turn mobile TV into a mass-market phenomenon.
The World Cup in South Africa in 2010 is spotlighting the potential of mobile TV. Four years ago, mobile TV was offered as a subscription service on high-end handsets, delivering specially-developed or licensed programming. Since then, the development of TV tuners integrated into handsets enable phones to receive live, free-to-air television broadcasts for both analogueue and digital standards. A range of handsets that incorporate free-to-air TV functionality as a standard, free, feature are now available globally in a variety of price levels and designs. Recent developments in TV handset design are particularly relevant to 2010 and the impact that ‘World Cup fever’ may bring to mobile TV. The low-cost of some new TV handsets that integrate live TV and FM radio reception with basic voice and SMS services will encourage mass market uptake especially in emerging markets and price-sensitive consumer segments in developed economies. The emergence of low-cost TV handsets, dovetailing with the compelling content generated by the upcoming World Cup in South Africa and the Cricket World Cup tournament in 2011, has the potential to put mobile TV in reach of consumers around the world. The combination of all of these factors should help mobile TV to finally fulfil its potential as a mass-market proposition. TV handsets in developing markets Much attention is paid to digital mobile TV adoption in Europe and the US and digital TV broadcast selection in countries around the world. Ironically, over the last two years, free-to-air, mobile, analogueue TV has experienced substantial growth in emerging markets and has rapidly outpaced the adoption of digital services in mature markets. Handsets supporting analogueue broadcast TV standards first appeared in the market in mid-2007, and have already surpassed the 50 million mark globally, with the strongest uptake in emerging markets. This is not surprising when you consider two key characteristics of developing markets. First, emerging markets are experiencing a phenomenal rate subscriber growth. In India, for example, the COAI (Cellular Operators of India) predicts that there will be 800 million GSM subscribers by 2012 and one billion a few years later. Second, television is frequently the primary source of news, information and entertainment in these markets. Wireless service providers can offer a wide range of services to connect people. Adding television to voice and data brings breaking news, sports, weather reports, soap operas and even movies to consumers, giving people greater access to popular content with its roots in local culture and locally occurring events. Global TV infrastructure A third, complementary, characteristic of developing markets that lends itself to supporting mobile TV on low cost handsets is the continuing strength of the existing analogueue TV service that has been developed over the last sixty years. As a result, handset designs that support free-to-air analogueue TV broadcast standards have been able to rapidly penetrate large geographical regions such as Asia, Latin America and Africa. The rapid adoption of analogue TV handsets in these markets has provided manufacturers with the opportunity to experiment with and identify designs that appeal to consumers. Two years ago, the first models that supported analogue mobile TV were large, bulky and block-shaped. Since then, manufacturers have introduced slim designs in a variety of form factors and colours. Innovative designs and features that influence user experience include handsets with single button instant access to TV, automatic picture rotation that alternates between portrait to landscape view, touch-screen controls and PVR capabilities. The introduction of low-cost handsets that focus on four primary features - TV, FM radio, voice and SMS - while eliminating some of the multimedia capability of mid-tier feature phones, is a particularly important innovation. This opens up adoption opportunities in price-sensitive markets such as Africa and India, and at the same time puts mobile TV within reach of lower-income consumers in existing TV handset markets such as Latin America and Southeast Asia. Sport competition in Africa and India The forthcoming football World Cup in South Africa and the Cricket World Cup tournament co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh present operators, distributors and retailers in these regions with an opportunity to take advantage of these innovative handsets designs as a promotional tool to drive mobile TV uptake. The same strategy can be employed in the countries that have teams competing in both these tournaments. While it has been standard practice for mobile handset manufacturers to affiliate themselves with sporting events for promotional purposes, the ability to provide consumers with the actual live content, for free, enables new entrants to the market providing these handsets to stand out. The World Cup will help focus these two regions on low-cost TV handsets will play a big role in shaping the profile of the mobile TV market. There are a number of options available to operators deploying mobile TV including 3G (eventually, 4G) streaming services and proprietary digital mobile TV networks. However, a low-cost TV handset design incorporating free-to-air analogue TV provides operators with the opportunity to affordably place this feature in the hands of a mass-market audience and give them access to mobile TV without a subscription fee. In India, in the urban regions where cable and satellite services are preferred to free-to-air channels, one might question whether a free-to-air mobile TV strategy, even on a low-cost handset, can succeed. However, although there are only two to three national and local free-to-air channels available in most regions, these channels carry the content consumers care most about - cricket, news and Bollywood movies. Operator alternatives The value proposition of handsets with free broadcast TV receivers is clear - they give people access to the same content they already know and enjoy on conventional TV sets. Mobile operators, on the other hand, are still developing the business model for free-to-air mobile TV. In addition to free-to-air broadcast TV, mobile operators have a number of alternatives to consider for the rollout of mobile TV services including streaming and proprietary mobile networks. The streaming of live TV, dedicated mobile TV networks and VOD (video-on-demand) over mobile networks are typically offered on a subscription-basis which charges for the delivery of licensed content. These services require investment in the licensing of content and in the development of dedicated infrastructure. Free-to-air mobile TV, in contrast, delivers the content for free, but does not require any investment in incremental infrastructure because it harnesses the existing TV ecosystem, including spectrum, standards, towers and content. So how have the operators responded to the free-to-air approach and what have they gained from it? A number of operators in Latin America and Asia are currently using TV handsets as a way to differentiate their product offerings from the competition, and to attract and retain subscribers in competitive pre-paid markets. It is clear that this will not be a sustainable strategy once free-to air TV feature becomes a standard feature on mobile handsets. Still, this approach can be effective in today’s market, especially in conjunction with such global sporting events such as the Cricket and Football World Cups. In the meantime, manufacturers are continuing to drive innovation, based on a complementary services model, which enables ARPU-generating activities that are simultaneous or complementary to the TV viewing function. Low-cost handsets With the World Cup in South Africa and the Cricket World Cup, in India, free-to-air TV handsets provide operators with an opportunity to deliver compelling content and to expand their subscriber bases. The emergence of low-cost TV handsets will enable operators in developing markets to deliver an integrated solution with mass market appeal that will be affordable to the vast majority of consumers. The opportunity enabled by low-cost TV handsets does not have to be limited to developing markets. There is plenty of scope for operators in the developed economies to market the handsets, especially by targeting the youth market and first-time subscribers, as well as existing subscribers as a complementary second handset. It will be interesting to see how the mobile TV market unfolds, but one thing is clear - the advances in technology since the World Cup in 2006 will propel mobile TV into the spotlight once again. The difference between 2006 and now is that the availability of low-cost handsets means mobile TV can finally become an affordable mass market proposition.