CDMA gets tepid reception from Chinese users

When China United Telecommunications Corp. (China Unicom) announced the commercial launch of its nationwide CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) service in January, Qualcomm Corp. – the San Diego company that developed CDMA technology and lobbied for the creation of a national CDMA network in China – welcomed the news.

“This launch represents a major advance in Chinese telecommunications and positions China Unicom at the forefront of wireless communications,” Qualcomm said in a statement issued on Jan. 8.

Three months on, China Unicom’s CDMA network is hardly at the forefront of China’s mobile telecommunication industry. Instead, the company, which is based in Beijing, has seen CDMA subscriber growth lag behind its other mobile network, which is based on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a rival mobile-phone technology that is not compatible with CDMA.

Even though China Unicom’s CDMA network was launched in January of this year, the roots of the network can be traced back to a CDMA network operated by a company linked to the Chinese military, Great Wall Telecom. That network, which formed the nucleus of China Unicom’s CDMA service, was acquired by China Unicom in January 2001 as part of a Chinese government initiative to divest the military of its commercial operations.