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Beijing faces ‘triple play’ rivalries
|12 марта 2010|
China’s telecom operators could do with a lift after record investments in 3G networks and cut-throat competition for customers took a big bite out of their profits last year.
But although capital expenditure at China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom is set to drop from highs this year, the country’s three big operators are preparing for the next challenge. This time it is not from each other but from outside.
Barely a year after handing out 3G licences – a move that kick-started competition in the sector – in January the Chinese government announced a push for convergence between telecoms, broadcasting and the internet. Beijing said it would aim to break down regulatory barriers between the three industries and allow broadcasters to start offering telecom services, and vice versa.
Regional trials are to start as early as this year and convergence is set to be completed between 2013 and 2015, according to the State Council, the country’s chief administrative authority.
While the push into so-called ‘triple play’ is approaching in many countries, analysts say China offers different opportunities and challenges.
“The habit of content consumption as we know it in pay-TV elsewhere doesn’t exist here, partly because the government is keeping such tight tabs on television programming,” says Fang Meiqin, associate director at BDA, a telecoms consultancy in Beijing.
Telecom operators, who are not subject to the same regulator, have a head start over the other two industries, as many of them already offer an increasing portfolio of content to their 3G customers.
China Telecom has also been experimenting extensively with IPTV – television on demand delivered over broadband to users’ TV sets. However, the operator is only charging for value-added services such as stock trading on IPTV.
Telecom operators have another advantage over the TV sector because through their proprietary networks they can offer more bandwidth.
Internet video platforms and film and TV content production groups also believe they could benefit from a move to triple play.
“We are a content consolidator and with triple play, new markets and distribution channels for content will open up,” says Zhang Lijun, chairman of VODone, China’s largest video website.
However, some analysts warn that a move by cable operators and broadcasters into telecom services could prove a threat to those operators that have fixed-line services.
“The new convergence policy will introduce competition into the broadband internet access market, the only growth engine for fixed-line operators, which have also enjoyed a near monopoly in their own territory,” says Michael Meng, a telecom analyst at Citigroup.
He believes China Telecom has the most to lose, followed by China Unicom, while he sees China Mobile as a net winner.
How things play out in the end will depend on the detailed design of the new regulatory framework. That is still up in the air as the State Council has so far done nothing to resolve the long-standing conflict between the two regulators that govern the sectors.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, in charge of the telecom operators, aims to foster domestic technological innovation, strengthen the telecom and IT infrastructure and boost demand for networking equipment and other electronics products.
But the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television seeks to build a cultural industry and strengthen broadcasters and content producers while seeking to maintain content censorship.
Rivalry between the two has already hampered the development of mobile television in China.
Analysts say that to unlock the full potential of network convergence, they would have to be merged under one regulator. Since that would also be charged with ensuring censorship, the Communist Party’s propaganda department would have to weigh in on its structure.
“Only if such policy-level steps are being taken in time will it be possible to meet the five-year time-table,” says Liu Liang, an analyst at iResearch in Beijing.
Источник: Financial Times