The launch of 3G in China has been an international political hot potato for years now, with other countries charging that the Chinese have been dragging their feet on 3G in order to give TD-SCDMA time to be developed. That's allegedly to prevent the use of other 3G standards - WCDMA and CDMA2000 - even though, technically, they have been made legal in China by a reportedly reluctant government caving in to international pressure. Still, reports are that there's major pressure on China Mobile, China Unicom and other carriers to "choose" TD-SCDMA, a situation that would thus favor Chinese manufacturers in what has emerged as the world's biggest single cellphone market. Carriers reportedly served 565 million mobile phone users by the end of last month, estimated at about a 43-percent penetration rate of the total available market. Such pressure, many argue, would violate China's free trade commitments.
Indeed, China Telecom started a TD-SCDMA pilot two years ago that was supposed to lead to 3G by the end of 2006 (TelecomWeb news break, Dec. 30, 2005), with the delays said to be due to the need to fix problems with TD-SCDMA revealed in the pilot. New networks trials recently reported by Chinese news media have gone off without a hitch, setting the stage for today's announcement.
The government and China Mobile also haven't said how long the commercial trials will last, although it is understood they will continue through the Olympics, with foreigners able to get their hands on TD-SCDMA handsets during the games. Just how many of handsets will be available during the Olympics is also not known but the initial tests, which begin next Tuesday, will (according to one report) include 20,000 handsets given to lucky testers for free, and additional handsets available to others at subsidized prices of $282 to $564 each. The test is also to include 5,000 PC cards. The handsets are coming from China's Lenovo, Hisense, ZTE and New Postcom along with South Korea's Samsung and LG. Other manufacturers, most notably Nokia and Motorola, have in the past said they will decide what handsets to make after the Chinese issue 3G licenses and it's clear what standard or standards Chinese carriers will support.
Those buying the handsets and signing up for service in those cities where 3G will be available - Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Qinhuangdao - reportedly will get a cash allowance, according to some reports, or a 50-percent discount on monthly fees, according to others, while the trials are in progress. According to Chinese news media, incoming calls will be free, while outgoing calls will cost 5 cents per minute. Entry-level data service, limited to 30 MB of traffic, will cost $1.25 per month, with packages ranging to $37.50 for 8 GB. It wasn't known what fees would be charged for other planned services like mobile TV and video conferencing.