CHINA: Firms rush to be China's Big Brother
New rules demanding surveillance systems be installed at numerous business and public sector venues across China are prompting a surge of interest by companies involved with "Big Brother" technologies, with multinationals such as General Electric, Panasonic and Honeywell being joined in the rush for business by smaller firms such as China Security and Surveillance Technology.
Industry experts estimate that about 9,000 companies are engaged in providing various security and monitoring hardware, software and services across the mainland.
At stake is a business set to grow almost five times in the next three years.
"The China Public Security Guide estimated the security and surveillance market -- including equipment and services -- was worth US$6.9 billion last year and will reach US$33.18 billion in 2009," said Terence Yap, a spokesman for Golden Group Corp (Shenzhen), the local subsidiary of United States-listed China Security and Surveillance Technology.
"It's a huge market, but pretty fragmented today. We see consolidation happening, which will help us to become the biggest Chinese player in this industry."
China Security, whose over-the-counter shares in the United States have gained 20 per cent this year, has already started to stake its claim for dominance.
Last month, the company agreed to buy all the shares of rival Shanghai Cheng Feng Digital Technology for 120 million yuan.
That transaction will be partly funded from US$14.9 million in proceeds from its recent private placement.
China Security reported revenues of US$32.7 million last year, up 103.6 per cent from US$16.1 million in 2004.
"As the Chinese economic and industrial base continues to expand, the need for our services and expertise is becoming increasingly important," said chief executive Tu Guo Shen.
"Additionally, significant events, including the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2010 World's Fair in Shanghai, represent major opportunities for our company."
Installation of security and tracking systems across China gained urgency this year, following the State Council's passage of Ordinance No458 on January 18.
All so-called "entertainment halls" must install video-monitoring systems covering entrances, exits and main corridors by March 1 next year.
This includes all public entertainment venues, such as internet cafes, cinemas, dance clubs and music halls.
The security-conscious climate in China is also being influenced by worldwide efforts to reduce the problems of vandalism, crime and terrorism against large businesses and expensive infrastructure, which in the mainland included transport systems, hotels and the 2008 Summer Olympics venues in Beijing.
Other ordinances passed by the central government that require security surveillance systems to be installed include: all coal mines (currently estimated at 28,000) by the end of 2008; all justice departments and courts; 660 cities throughout China for street surveillance; and retail stores in Xian, where installations must occur before business licences can be granted.
Electronics specialist IMS Research has forecast China to emerge as the largest market in Asia for access control equipment, with a 31.5 per cent regional share by 2009.
More players are expected to enter the market, with Hong Kong offering numerous specialists to help establish or manage the projects.
Despite concerns about privacy, that broad choice will increasingly make it easier and less expensive to implement round-the-clock closed circuit television surveillance and internet-based video monitoring for government agencies, corporations, small businesses, families and individuals, experts said.
Multinational brands such as General Electric, Panasonic and Honeywell have been typically engaged for big and complex security and surveillance projects.
Yet the market is expanding significantly to allow small but aggressive foreign and domestic manufacturers, suppliers and service providers to thrive.
The market opportunities include the estimated US$6 billion to US$12 billion that Beijing expects to spend for security infrastructure in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, along with the planned investment for the 2010 World's Fair.
China Security manufactures, distributes, installs and maintains digital security and surveillance systems - including embedded digital video recorders, digital cameras, digital compression cards and decoders - through its Golden Group subsidiary.
The company's production base is in Shenzhen, with a research and development facility backed by Beijing University.
China Security was recently awarded an exclusive contract worth US$3 million by the Shenzhen Cyber Cafe Association, to provide video monitoring systems for more than 1,000 internet cafes in the city. The project is expected to be completed by next year's deadline.
Hong Kong is also a stakeholder in China's burgeoning security and surveillance market, providing both skilled manpower and sourcing agents.
"In China, there are only 311 Certified Information Systems Security Professionals, which is far below the number needed on the mainland," said Wilson Yuen Yiu-fai, a lecturer of computer studies at the City University of Hong Kong.
"But in Hong Kong, we have 1,267 such professionals. That means Hong Kong can provide a good supply of consultants, technology advisers, or information security auditors to mainland security and surveillance projects."
These certified professionals are accredited by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, a not-for-profit organisation that oversees the standard of acceptable competence for professionals in its industry.
Experts said Hong Kong is also the best source of high-end security and monitoring products.
Some of that equipment requires licences for re-export from Hong Kong to the mainland, obtained from China's Department of Commerce.
The city re-exported about 25 per cent -- worth US$230 million - of its security equipment imports to the mainland in 2004.
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