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China's Mobile Industry Readies for 3G/UMTS

Delegates at the second roundtable hosted by China's 3G Leading Group and industry association The UMTS Forum today heard more about plans by China's national administration, operators and equipment manufacturers to introduce 3G/UMTS.

Under the direction of China's Ministry of Information Industries (MII), trials of 3G/UMTS radio access networks and terminals are now completed. Evaluation of W-CDMA technology has been quite satisfactory on the network side, and more dual mode handsets are expected for further testing. With the final results of these trials expected soon, it is anticipated by the UMTS Forum that China's administration may signal its intention to award 3G licenses in due course.

"Timely licensing in harmonised spectrum bands will ensure that China can keep pace with the growing opportunity for 3G/UMTS in terms of economies of scale, IPR export opportunities and revenues from international roaming and new services", stated UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaim in his address to an audience of operators, vendors and Chinese ministry officials. "With subscribers already exceeding 10 million on more than 46 W-CDMA networks worldwide, it's a clear signal to China that the true mass market for 3G/UMTS is just around the corner." Bienaim's views were echoed in the meeting by a senior representative of the European Commission, who urged China to confirm its own 3G plans as rapidly as possible.

"With a population that exceeds a billion people, the economic opportunity for 3G/UMTS is immense", noted Bienaim. "China's GSM subscriber base is growing at a rate comparable with the population of a small country every month, making it one of the world's most significant mobile markets." 3G/UMTS builds on existing GSM investments, providing operators with dramatically increased capacity to support additional customers and higher data rates at lower incremental cost than providing additional 2G capacity.

Officials from MII also confirmed that China's schedule for the industrialisation of TD SCDMA is on track, with a dozen vendors currently developing the technology that is standardised alongside W CDMA in the Third Generation Partnership project. Providing an effective complement to W-CDMA, TD-SCMDA makes use of unpaired (TDD) radio spectrum to deliver high data speeds in short-range/urban environments. With the majority of European 3G operators holding unpaired spectrum in addition to their paired (FDD) allocations, MII representatives suggested that the European mobile industry could embrace the commercial potential of TD-SCDMA rather than limiting its application to China's domestic market.

Mirroring the strategy of many European operators, Bienaim indicated that Chinese deployment of 3G/UMTS will be progressive. "The country's extensive rural population means that it's impossible for operators to launch with 100% population coverage from Day One, and instead we can expect to see initial 3G/UMTS network coverage in major urban centres. The geographical spread of China's population also means that we could see deployment of W-CDMA networks at lower frequencies, complemented by other broadband wireless access technologies to augment roll-out."

The workshop was organised by The UMTS Forum and The China 3G Leading Group, comprising The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), The National Development and Research Council (NDRC) and The Ministry of Information Industries (MII), plus Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and the support of Chinese delegations of The European Commission and The GSM Association. Sponsorship was provided by manufacturers Alcatel, Huawei, Nortel, Siemens and Ericsson.