China may issue 3G licenses this month

After years of delays, China may finally issue licenses for operators to provide 3G (third-generation) mobile services. according to Chinese news reports.

Li Yanzhong, China’s minister of industry and information technology, made the announcement at a press briefing on Friday, according to a report on the Web site of the China Daily, the country’s official English-language newspaper.

Preparations for a 3G rollout in the country has been reported on since 2006. Early this year, China began restructuring its fixed line and mobile operations.

“After the proper procedures, we will grant the 3G licenses by the end of this year or early next year as promised,” Li said, according to the report.

China is rare among countries with large numbers of mobile users for not allowing 3G services, which permit users to download data at faster speeds. While most countries allowed the technology to be deployed, China’s government delayed, part of efforts to develop a local 3G standard, called TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access).

Li’s reported announcement marks an important milestone, but is largely anticlimactic.

TD-SCDMA trial networks have been built in several Chinese cities alongside test networks using international standards WCDMA (Wideband CDMA) and CDMA 2000-1X EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized). In addition, it’s long been apparent that the country’s dominant operator, China Mobile Communications, will be saddled with promoting the local 3G standard, while its smaller rivals get to offer services that use the international standards, which are more mature and have proved themselves in commercial operation around the world.

China Daily reported that Chinese operators are expected to spend more than 200 billion yuan (US$29.2 billion) on 3G equipment, but did not offer a timeframe when this spending will take place. The report said these investments will help stimulate China’s economy, which has seen growth slow somewhat because of the current global economic turmoil.

“The government seems to be keener on starting 3G services, which will unleash huge investments in network construction, handset upgrading and wireless services,” the report said.

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