Chinese gov’t preps 3G rollout

Telecom regulators in China may finally be preparing to issue 3G (third generation) telephony licenses, if a report in astate-run newspaper is any indication.

Commercial use of 3G will begin this year in China, according toa report by the Development Research Center of the State Council,China’s cabinet, the English-language China Daily saidThursday.

“Commercial use” was not defined, and the report made no mentionof a large-scale consumer roll out. However, the State Council’sreport predicted a launch for sometime later this year.

China’s Ministry of Information Industry (MII), the nation’s telecom regulator, has never released atimetable for 3G licensing or roll out or said how many licenses itwill issue, although industry participants generally believe MIIwill offer six licenses.

Foreign carriers will not be allowed to apply for licenses.

Chinese officials and industry executives have stated they want3G in place in time for the August 2008 Olympic Games to be held inBeijing. However, with most analysts now predicting an early 2007debut for 3G, that would leave operators with less time to test and implement the network before theOlympics than had previously been hoped.

One issue has been the selection of a 3G standard. China’s ownstandard, TD-SCDMA (Time Division-Synchronous Code DivisionMultiple Access) is favored by local enterprises and governmentofficials, but may delay wide uptake due to a lack of support fromequipment and handset manufacturers.

“While a decision on 3G this year would be good news, theauthors of the report underestimate the timing of an actualcommercial roll out,” said David Wolf, chief executive officer ofWolf Group Asia Ltd., a Beijing-based technology consultancy.”Commercial handsets could be available within three to six months,but building and testing a nationwide 3G network would require nineto 12 months before commercial service could begin.”

Wolf predicted that China United Telecommunications Corp. (ChinaUnicom), which already operates China’s only CDMA (Code DivisionMultiple Access) network, could be first out of the gate.”Depending on specifics, China Unicom could be the first to launchcommercial 3G services, given the relative ease and cost ofupgrading its network compared to other operators.”