Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chinese 3G Investment, IPTV phone, and Ericsson

China's 3G investment - "China's top three telecommunication operators, China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, invested 80 billion yuan to boost the third-generation (3G) network so far this year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said Wednesday." "The ministry expected the three operators would invest 170 billion yuan (24.87 billion U.S dollars) in 3G network construction this year. "

So far, subscriber numbers for 3G has been low. "According to the article, China's 3 mobile operators have targeted 50 million 3G subscribers by the end of this year. But since the issuance of 3G licenses in Jan 7 this year, subscribers of all kinds have not reached 3 m under the most optimistic estimate. Of that total, more than a million use 3G cards or 3G laptops. Among the handset users, .74m are on China Mobile's TD-SCDMA network by the end of May, including users acquired during early trials and during the Olympics last year when free give-aways and other promotions were in place. There are only .1+ m users on China Telecom's 3G service. China Unicom now aims for .2m users for its WCDMA service by the end of Oct. In stark contrast, the total population of mobile subs in China is 600m right now. Average monthly uptake in mobile subs in Q1 this year is 9.6m in China. Clearly, the initial growth of 3G has not lived up to market potential and expectation. "

The 3G handsets cost $300-450 so they are not cheap.

UT's mobile iptv- UTStarcom, Inc. (Nasdaq: UTSI) has been selected as the only technology supplier for the first Mobile Television (TV) system across Hainan province, driven by China Telecom's (NYSE: CHA) Hainan branch. This is the first large-scale Mobile TV system in China to adopt UTStarcom's end-to-end RollingStream(R) platform. The deployment is scheduled to go live on May 17, 2009, as an extension of the existing Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) service that Hainan Telecom and UTStarcom have been delivering since 2006.

CMMB- Shanghai. May 20. INTERFAX-CHINA - China's three telecom operators are accelerating their plans to roll out mobile TV services in order to gain ground in the forthcoming 3G era, with China Mobile the favorite to win among both analysts and consumers.

Although the 3G networks deployed by operators have the potential to provide streaming TV services, all three operators plan to rely mainly on the China-developed China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting (CMMB) mobile TV standard to deliver their mobile TV services to both their 2G and 3G customers.

On May 19, China Mobile became the first telecom operator to sign a deal with China Satellite Mobile Broadcasting Co. Ltd. (CSMB), the national operator of CMMB, allowing China Mobile's CMMB-enabled handsets to access the CMMB network, according to Shen Hongbin, general manager of TiMi Technology Co. Ltd., a chip manufacturer and the developer of CMMB.

Commentary: It is interesting that UTStarcom, known for its low cost PAS handsets, has now switched gears targetting the higher end handset market and focusing on iptv. While the market is not large compared to the overall 600m mobile/handset market in China, investments by operators in 3G, iptv, and their goal to increase overall revenue could make UTs startegy pay off. The number of handset suppliers number in the 30s but UT can leverage their advantage in iptv to carve a nice market share in iptv enabled handsets. Handsets using CMMB (see above) will be competition but UT can offer more from their iptv system. Also, note that May starting dates are very close. This is a nice consumer product that UT can build on (and they have 1.32m iptv subscribers to market the handsets to already).

Ericsson- Back in 2006 (and maybe earlier), Ericsson was discussed as a potential buyer of UTStarcom. Ericsson has been a major acquirer and has targetted IPTV as one of its important areas of growth. Ericsson has acquired other companies since such as Redback Networks but its expansion hunger continues. The company is projected to spend $25B in R&D over 5 years and recently made inroads in China (I've discussed their India business previously).

"Recently, L.M. Ericsson (ERIC) (Analyst Report) received fiber-to-the home (FTTH) equipment contracts from all of China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. Ericsson’s GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) technology will be used for high-speed internet access and high-definition IPTV services in 9 Chinese provinces."

Here is a note on Ericsson's IPTV strategy: "Ericsson characterized the existing IPTV systems as First Generation and stated that its conversations with IPTV operators indicate that they have strong concerns about the ability of these systems to scale. Ericsson told me that it thinks that many of these systems will top out at 500 thousand IPTV subscribers. It expects that moving to a second genreation of IPTV systems will create major opportunities for it."

The author commented: "There is no question that Ericsson is late to the IPTV party. Its acquisition of Tandberg clearly gives it a strong presence in the market but not as a full service provider.It will be interesting to see if its view of the market will pan out. Personally, I think it will be much more difficult for Ericsson, or any other large full service system supplier, to break into the market at this time. "

Today, Ericsson threw its hat in the bidding for Nortel's CDMA/LTE assets. "The Swedish giant confirmed Thursday morning that it is "going to participate in the auction for Nortel's CDMA and LTE access" assets, and confirmed it had submitted an initial pre-auction bid by the end-of-Tuesday deadline, but did not disclose any further details."

Ericsson+UT still makes sense.

IPTV and its related revenue streams (handsets, mobile/fixed infra, advertising/digital signage/commerce/education, etc) are still in the very early stage. UTs wins in India, Taiwan, and China have barely scratched the surface and some are just going live now. Thats both frustrating and shows the potential growth in the future.......