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Chinese market ready for mobile broadband to flourish
3G license winners will benefit from strong telecoms sector growth

China’s telecoms market offers a positive environment for mobile broadband to flourish over the next few years, says 3G industry association the UMTS Forum.

With China’s administration now drawing closer to issuing 3G licenses, UMTS Forum Chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaimé has predicted that timely 3G deployments could be followed by LTE (Long Term Evolution) commercialisation as early as 2012-2013.

“Other major world markets have already successfully commercialised 3G, and China cannot afford to be left behind by further delays”, stated Bienaimé. “Licensing now provides a framework for operators to progress phased deployment of 3G while preparing the roadmap towards LTE.”

“With Chinese market restructuring now accomplished, there’s now a clear environment for the three resulting operators to offer their customers a compelling range of broadband services”, he added.

Mobile penetration in China, with 625 million subscribers, now stands at nearly 50%. In a population of 1.3 billion, this gives operators and handset vendors a large addressable customer base to offer 3G networks, terminals and services. Speaking in Beijing this week at the China Mobility International Summit, the UMTS Forum Chairman stressed that lowered tariffs and steady uptake of non-voice services are already creating a ‘3G-friendly’ environment.

It’s been reported that more than a million mobile phone users watched coverage of the Olympic Games this summer, while 10 million visited a WAP Olympic news portal. “Wireless multimedia is a reality in China – and it’s a clear signal of the enormous potential for mobile broadband in this massive marketplace”, noted Bienaimé.
The UMTS Forum has also emphasized the role of China’s new Ministry of Industry and Information Technologies (MIIT) in stimulating China’s industrialisation and economic development through improved infocomms. MIIT has recently predicted that mobile subscriptions will swell to nearly 800 million by 2011 from today’s 625 million. The ministry also anticipates that the number of 3G users could reach 130 million by 2011.

China’s 3G networks will represent a blend of radio access technologies, often overlaid alongside existing and new 2G infrastructure. WCDMA deployment has already started in advance of 3G licenses being issued, with China Unicom trialling the 3GPP technology in 700 locations including Shanghai.

Development of TD-SCDMA continues in the meantime. Following first deployments by China Mobile before this summer’s Beijing Olympics, the performance of China’s “home grown” 3G standard is being steadily refined. MIIT has recently reported (October 2008) that there are currently more than a quarter of a million TD-SCDMA users. Improved handsets and network rollout – including deployments of higher-speed TD-HSDPA – are expected to drive this figure substantially higher.

Looking to the future, Bienaimé anticipated that WCDMA/HSDPA and TD-SCDMA will be followed rapidly by LTE (Long Term Evolution) deployments from as early as 2012-2013. MIIT has signalled its focus on evolution towards next-generation networks, with TD-SCDMA offering a pathway to TD-LTE in China:

“LTE presents a convergence point for China’s operators, providing a clear technological track to high-speed mobile broadband for all 3G radio access technologies.”