Sun, Nov 30, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Could DAB fate portend the future of WiMAX?

By Weber Lai 賴祥蔚

While Taiwan’s retail, food and beverage, hypermarket and other traditional industries are rejoicing over the business the government’s consumer voucher scheme will bring, the digital media industry is in dire straits.

Media reports say that First International Telecom may have to give up its WiMAX — Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access — plans because of a shortage of funds. Although still working hard, the economic recession means its prospects do not look too promising. Not long ago, Taiwan Mobile Co also announced it would give up plans to use Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). Are these two isolated incidents or are they somehow related?

WiMAX is a convenient wireless transmission technology capable of increasing the distance of wireless microwave transmissions by several kilometers. DAB is capable of CD quality sound transmission without interference. It can also simultaneously transmit video and other forms of data and be integrated with the Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

The development possibilities of WiMAX and DAB are extensive, but the tough economic times mean businesses must make cuts. This is a loss for WiMAX and DAB providers, and will have a detrimental effect on the development of Taiwan’s digital media industry. Only time will tell how other Taiwanese WiMAX providers such as Tatung InfoComm will continue to promote their services. It is also worthwhile to keep an eye on WiMAX to see if it will follow in the footsteps of DAB.

The development of DAB in Taiwan passed through three stages: planning, preparation and a final stage characterized by setbacks. It now looks like it may disappear altogether.

In 200l, the government planned 10 groups of radio stations, including most of Taiwan’s most renowned radio stations, to take part in a DAB trial. It was a big project and participants were full of hope.

At the preparatory stage in 2004, the first round of applications for digital broadcasting licenses opened. After the application review in 2005, six companies obtained trial licenses but only one, Tai Yi Digital Broadcasting, went ahead with trial broadcasts. A joint venture established between Taiwan Mobile — which owned 49.7 percent of the shares — E-Ten Information Systems Co, Hit FM and IC FM 97.5, it was the only operator led by telecommunications companies.

After two years of trials, DAB experienced problems, partly because of a lack of promotion, inadequate public knowledge of the technology and high-priced DAB radios that few were willing to purchase. As a result there were too few consumers to keep DAB up and running. In July this year, Taiwan Mobile announced that Tai Yi would be dissolved, and the outlook for other DAB providers is not very bright.

The biggest problem for Taiwan’s DAB industry was a lack of forward-looking policies. Many reports show that lack of promotion is the biggest problem with digital technology in Taiwan.

In a survey on radio broadcasting conducted by the Government Information Office in 2006, 57 percent of businesses agreed and 34 percent strongly agreed that the government lacked effective policies, while 55 percent agreed and 34 percent strongly agreed that the government lacked supporting measures.

Of course, the situations faced by WiMAX and DAB differ quite a bit and the two cannot be lumped together. However, based on the government’s lack of forward-looking policies and supporting measures for the development of DAB, it is difficult not to worry about the future of WiMAX, DTV and other facets of Taiwan’s digital media industry.

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