AT&T launches China services, first foreign telecom JV

AT&T Corp. has officially launched telecommunication services in Shanghai through a joint-venture company, Shanghai Symphony Telecommunications Co. Ltd., marking the first time a partially foreign-owned telecommunication carrier has offered services in China.

Shanghai Symphony will market its service under the ‘Unisiti’ brand name and initially target multinational companies with operations in the Pudong business district, the area for which it holds a license, said Greg Brutus, a spokesman for AT&T Asia-Pacific. “These are companies that want to tie together their complete international data networks and want a single point of contact. We can now do that,” he said.

Beyond that, Shanghai Symphony will look to Chinese companies in Pudong that have operations overseas and also has plans to expand its geographic service area. An application to offer services throughout Shanghai has already been filed and the company hopes to have preliminary approval within the year, Brutus said. Services in other major cities, including Beijing, are a distant goal.

AT&T holds a 25 per cent stake in the company behind Shanghai Telecom Co. Ltd. (STC), a unit of China Telecom that has a 60 per cent stake in the company. Shanghai Information Investment Inc. is the third investor in the project and holds a 15 per cent stake.

Shanghai Symphony will offer a mixture of its own consulting and business services alongside AT&T products. From Friday, the service line-up includes managed IP (Internet protocol) VPN (virtual private network), data network and remote access services.

Announcement of the beginning of services comes 16 months after AT&T first signed a deal with its partners to form the company. At the time, the three companies said they expected to start services in mid-2001.

Getting a foot in the door of China’s potentially lucrative telecommunication market has been high on the to-do list of many foreign telecommunication carriers since the country started making noises about letting in foreign carriers in 2000. With China’s admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) earlier this year, their passage was officially approved through a new set of regulations.

The regulations allow foreign companies to hold up to a 40 per cent stake in value-added carriers in selected cities this year. That limit will rise to 49 per cent next year and hit 50 per cent with no geographical restrictions in 2005, according to market analysts BDA China Ltd.

“I think it is as expected,” said Brutus of the Chinese regulations compared to AT&T’s outlook when it agreed to form the venture in late 2000. “There was always a pretty clear indication of the way things were going. We would like things to move faster but they are beyond our control.”

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