China to launch 3G services by mid-2002

China will begin to roll out commercial 3G (third-generation) mobile services based on TD-SCDMA (Time-Division Synchronous Code-Division Multiple Access) technology from the middle of next year, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers expected to sign up for 3G services by the end of 2002, according to Klaus Maler, general manager of TD-SCDMA at Siemens AG, a supplier of the technology.

The commercial rollout of 3G services will be preceded by a field trial that is set to begin in Beijing on Oct. 1, said Maler, speaking at the CeBIT Asia Forum here. The trials will provide data access at speeds of 384K bps (bits per second), he said.

"The equipment is already ready for trials in October," Maler said.

The first stage of the field tests will involve internal trials using a "couple of dozen" handsets and 40 to 50 Siemens NB-430TS base stations, which are currently in volume production, Maler said. The scope of the tests will be expanded gradually and will ultimately involve "thousands of handsets" and several cities before commercial rollout of TD-SCDMA services begins next year, he said.

The trial will include a range of applications, including wireless Internet access and location-based services, Maler said. The location-based services will be provided using smart antenna technology, which allows TD-SCDMA base stations to determine the location of a handset and the strength of its signal. The availability of services when commercial services are rolled out will depend on which services operators choose to offer, he said.

Likewise, the determination of where the first 3G services get rolled out in China will depend on the operators, he said.

While the exact length of the trials has not yet been determined by China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII), TD-SCDMA-based 3G services are expected to be rolled out during the middle of 2002, Maler said. By the end of next year, the number of Chinese 3G subscribers will reach into the hundreds of thousands, he said, and will reach 40 million by 2005.

The handsets which will be used in the trials were designed by Siemens and will be manufactured by Siemens and Datang Telecom Technology Co. Ltd.

In July, the People's Daily newspaper reported that four companies would be involved in TD-SCDMA trials, including China Mobile Communications Corp., China Telecommunications (Group) Corp., and China Netcom Corp. Ltd. At the time of the report, the fourth operator had not been chosen.

Developed in China by Chinese and foreign telecommunication equipment makers, TD-SCDMA was formally approved as a 3G standard by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last year. Long seen as a likely 3G standard for China, TD-SCDMA will also become increasingly prevalent in Europe, Maler said.

While the first 3G services that get rolled out in Europe will use W-CDMA (Wideband CDMA) technology, European operators will increasingly turn to TD-SCDMA for "data-heavy applications" due to its more efficient use of radio spectrum, he said.

The CeBIT Asia Forum is being held concurrently with the CeBIT Asia exhibition, which runs through Saturday, August 11.

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