By Peter Feuilherade
BBC Monitoring, Singapore
Mobile devices offering TV and video on the move have been the focus of attention at Broadcast Asia, the region's biggest broadcasting trade show, in Singapore this week.
China is seen as a huge potential market for mobile TV
The World Cup seems to have energised people in South Korea, a pioneer in mobile TV.
Sales of handsets for the free-to-air
terrestrial mobile service have soared this month to 10,000 per day.
According to analysts Informa Telecoms and Media, more than 210 million people across the world will be watching TV on mobile devices by 2011.
Asia-Pacific will lead the way in mobile TV growth. Informa forecasts more than 95 million subscribers in the region by 2011.
At present, only South Korea and Japan have launched commercial mobile TV broadcasting services.
Koreans can choose between a terrestrial service, which is free-to-air and based on advertising revenues, and a satellite mobile pay-TV service.
There are currently six terrestrial and one satellite broadcaster in Korea's mobile TV sector.
Japan's free-to-air mobile TV service started in March this year, while Korea's service began testing in July 2005.
Commercial services started in metropolitan Seoul in December 2005, and will roll out nationwide in 2007.
People can access seven video and 13 audio channels, plus eight data streams providing an electronic programme guide, traffic updates, news, weather reports, share prices and interactive services.
There were some teething troubles, mostly involving service disruption and inability to receive signals, Lee Jeong-Taek of Korean broadcaster MBC told the media in Singapore.
But Seoul's subway system has since been adapted to allow mobile TV reception underground.
Eyes on China
The number of users for the free Korean service passed the one million mark this month.
Currently there are 80 companies producing the receivers. Average usage time is one hour per day.
"Every kind of terminal can receive the service, handheld mobile phones, in-car TV screens, laptops as well as portable devices with video screens," said MBC's Dr Lee.
Some handsets are designed around the idea of mobile TV
"We are very satisfied with the service. It's a good business opportunity for manufacturers and broadcasters too."
Not only do South Korean manufacturers have an established market, but this equipment is now available in large quantities at competitive prices for sale in other countries as they introduce mobile TV services.
China, the largest potential market, has placed an initial order of 500,000 receivers.
Mobile TV trials are under way across the Asia-Pacific region in countries including China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India and Australia.
In China, pilot services are running in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, with the participation of foreign companies such as Nokia and Korea's Samsung and LG.
Citizens in these major population centres, as well as Guangzhou, Wuhan, Changchun and Nanjing can already watch mobile TV on buses.
"Trials are being conducted all over the region to test not only for technology robustness, but also business viability for the new platform," said Millette Burgos of the trade publication Asia-Pacific Broadcasting.
At what price?
Currently the various mobile TV services use a variety of different technical standards.
But handset manufacturers do not believe this will put off Asian consumers.
In several Asian markets, broadcast mobile TV pilots "have revealed strong customer acceptance and demand", said Willie Cher, of Nokia Asia-Pacific.
The essentials for mobile TV services to succeed, according to speakers at Broadcast Asia, are high-quality pictures and sound, value for money, the right selection of channels, service availability, simplicity of use and a multimedia device.
But analysts in Singapore say there are still several issues to thrashed out.
The business model between mobile operators and broadcasters remains obscure, as does the issue of who would regulate mobile TV services.
Although mobile platforms have the potential to become significant sources of revenue for broadcasters in Asia, the issue of pricing is crucial, argued Jeremy Pink, president and managing director of CNBC Asia Pacific.
"Despite an established market demand for mobile TV, it is still not clear whether a large majority of consumers are ready to pay a premium for content transmitted via handheld devices," he warned.