Nortel, Motorola charge ahead in China

Motorola Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. forged ahead in a thriving Chinese telecommunications equipment market with a number of announcements at the PT Supercomm Asia conference in Shanghai, which began April 25. Motorola unveiled a new combination handset and PDA (personal digital assistant) for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and Nortel announced three new deals for building GSM (Global System for Mobile telecommunications) networks.

Prospects remain good for China's telecommunications market despite a slowing of growth in many parts of the world, according to some observers. The country currently has 230 million fixed-line and mobile phone subscribers and a penetration rate of only 20.1 percent of the population, according to a statement earlier this month from the Ministry of Information Industry.

One technology now getting off the ground is GPRS, which was the highlight of Motorola's booth at PT Supercomm, said Motorola China spokesman Michael Ning.

Motorola China showed for the first time at PT Supercomm its A6288 handset, a GPRS version of the GSM-based A6188 device, which includes a touch-screen PDA and a handset with a traditional keypad, Ning said.

The A6288 will be available before the end of this year to customers of GPRS services that will be offered by China Mobile Communications Corp. and China United Telecommunications Corp. (China Unicom). China Mobile is building GPRS networks in several cities across the country, and China Unicom offers a GPRS service to consumers now in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone near Hong Kong, Ning said.

GPRS networks provide packet-based data transmission at speeds as high as 115Kbps. Packet-based transmission allows customers to receive data without making a phone call and pay by the bit instead of by the minute. The intended result includes faster network response and lower mobile bills.

Also at PT Supercomm, Motorola demonstrated two other GPRS phones, the P280 and the V66, Ning said. The company also showed a prototype of a combination cable modem and set-top box for Internet access through televisions.

GPRS services may draw strong popularity in China if service providers and Internet content providers can develop useful and appealing applications, said Pindar Xie[cq], a telecommunications analyst at International Data Corp. in Beijing.

Carriers, Internet content providers and equipment vendors are trying to develop appealing and useful uses for GPRS that can be offered before the end of this year, but it will be some time before it's clear what will succeed, Xie said.

Games, MP3 music files, full e-mail messages and location-based services such as interactive maps are promising applications for GPRS, Xie said. Because GPRS is packet-based, it will allow Internet content providers to do a single broadcast to customers at a relatively low cost, such as a radio-like music service, he said. However, streaming video to GPRS devices is unlikely to succeed in the near future, he added.

Nortel announced at the conference three contracts to help build GSM networks in China. China Mobile awarded Nortel contracts in the Hebei, Anhui and Guizhou provinces that are worth about US$105 million. The company will expand capacity in all the networks and enhance the Anhui and Guizhou networks from GSM 900MHz to a dual-band GSM 900/1800MHz, according to a Nortel statement. Nortel also won a US$31 million contract from Ningbo Unicom, a unit of China Unicom. Nortel will expand Ningbo's GSM 900/1800MHz network to support as many as 910,000 subscribers. It now supports 350,000 subscribers.

China is a bright spot in the world telecom market, according to Nortel's Asia chief.

"Yes, there are slowdowns in certain areas but at the same time, markets such as China are still doing very well," said Masood Tariq, president for Asia-Pacific at Nortel. Likewise, while other countries are currently focused on expensive development of 3G (third-generation) mobile data networks and services, in China vendors and service providers are able to watch and learn from those growing pains, he added.

Also taking shape is China Unicom's nationwide CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network, for which Nortel and Motorola both are bidders, along with several other foreign and Chinese equipment vendors. "I think China will watch or observe how it's rolled out elsewhere in the world and utilize that learning," Tariq said. "Most of the operators in China are very focused on doing the basic stuff," he added.

PT Supercomm continues through Saturday at the Everbright Convention and Exhibition Centre in Shanghai.

Nortel, in Brampton, Ontario, can be reached at +1-905-238-7000 or via the Web at http://www.nortelnetworks.com. Motorola, in Schaumburg, Illinois, can be reached at +1-847-576-5000 or online at http://www.mot.com/.

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