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Speech by Acting Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology (English only)

    Following is a speech by the Acting Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology (Communications and Technology), Mrs Marion Lai, this morning (November 15) at the Mobile TV Conference held by the Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association (WTIA): (English only)

John (Chiu), ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning.

     First of all, I would like to thank WTIA for organising this meaningful and topical conference on "mobile TV" and for inviting me to speak in this opening session. I am pleased to share with you my thoughts from the policy perspective, and I am sure that your participation and discussion later today at the conference will shed further light on this hot topic.

     A new technology is always unpredictable, even to the forerunners. Some 130 years ago (in 1876), Mr Alexander Graham Bell invented and patented his telephone, and he tried to market the new invention to potential investors. The Western Union, the company that completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, politely declined Mr Bell, saying that this "telephone" had too many shortcomings to be seriously considered a means of communications. With hindsight, this is a big misjudgment indeed when we all use telephone (if not VoIP) and not telegraph to communicate internationally nowadays.

     Mobile TV is an exemplar of the newest technologies in the era of digital convergence. It combines mobility and television, giving people the unprecedented convenience to access personalised audiovisual content anytime, anywhere.

     As a new evolving technology, mobile TV is also unpredictable. Some market analysts believe that it will never be financially viable, while others consider it the most popular medium in the foreseeable future. According to industry news, one recent forecast is that by the year 2011 there will be over 200 million consumers worldwide subscribing to mobile TV services, and 10% of all mobile handsets sold by then will be able to receive such services.

     I have no idea which of the above forecasts is closer to the reality five years down the road, but I think we do not need a crystal ball to see that mobile TV is now all the rage around the world.

     South Korea is in the forefront of this field. One year after the launch of commercial terrestrial mobile TV services, South Korea already hits the mark of having one million subscribers. Operators in Japan, Italy and the UK also started to roll out mobile TV services earlier this year. Finland has granted a mobile TV licence to start broadcasting next month. Industry organisations are also equally enthusiastic. The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) has recently launched a mobile group dedicated to the effective deployment of mobile TV services across Asia Pacific region.

     In Hong Kong, some broadcasting and telecommunications companies have also started to test mobile TV. Local communications industry, consumer electronic equipment industry and content production industry all eye this new green pasture and are prepared to invest in the new technology.

     Since new technologies are unpredictable, it goes without saying that they are disruptive to the existing policy if not legislation.

     In the case of mobile TV, we see two main challenges ahead: spectrum assignment and regulation. I wish to share with you some of our observations on the world's trend in meeting such challenges.

     Access to frequency spectrum is the prerequisite to roll out mobile TV. The method for assigning spectrum for mobile TV varies from country to country, e.g.:

* South Korea has assigned Band III frequencies by a merit-based tendering exercise for the launch of T-DMB services;

* in the UK, there are available Band III frequencies for mobile operators to launch DAB-IP services, and Ofcom is planning for an auction of L Band frequencies for mobile TV or other services. However, Ofcom has decided to freeze the release of UHF Band frequencies until digital switchover;

* the US has auctioned available UHF Band frequencies across the country for MediaFLO services; and

* Australia is now preparing for the auction of UHF Band frequencies for new digital services including mobile TV.

     Another key challenge is how to regulate this new medium. The approaches appear to be culture- and country-specific and some examples on overseas experience are as follows:

* South Korea has created a new category of licence under its broadcasting legislation specifically for mobile multimedia services;

* in Italy and France, mobile TV is subject to the same rules applicable to digital terrestrial TV;

* Canada has proposed to exempt mobile TV from regulation. The regulator considers that mobile TV services are unlikely to compete significantly with traditional TV services; and

* in the UK, the five mobile operators developed a self-regulatory code of practice for commercial mobile picture-based content.

     Like counterparts in overseas economies, the Hong Kong Government is formulating its policy response to introduce mobile TV in Hong Kong. In so doing, we take note of overseas experience, but we are mindful that one size never fits all.

     That said, we do have some guiding principles in mind. As you are aware, it is always one of our policy objectives to maintain Hong Kong's position as a regional communications hub. Hong Kong has been doing well over the years in adopting new broadcasting and telecommunications technologies. For example, the world's first and largest commercial IPTV deployment happens right here in Hong Kong. And the mobile penetration rose to 130%, one of the highest in the world.

     In achieving the above, we are always guided by the philosophy of "Big Market, Small Government". We see our role as to provide you a facilitating environment. We always adopt a non-interventionist, market-led and light-handed regulatory approach in order to allow you to invest in new technologies.

     I see no reason why we should deviate from our successful model in the case of mobile TV. We shall formulate our response to the rapid development of mobile TV according to this overarching principle. We plan to consult the public on our detailed proposals within a few months, and I sincerely welcome you to send in your views and indicate your interests in providing mobile TV when the consultation exercise shortly commences.

     Thank you!

Ends/Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Issued at HKT 11:18