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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Speculations abound for China's 3G market outlook

China Securities Journal published an interesting article speculating the adoption of TD-SCDMA and other 3G technologies in China. The article reports that the Chinese government is asking China Mobile, Telecom, and Netcom to build TD-SCDMA test networks, covering 3,000 people each.

“Construction is expected to be completed by the end of March and network tests finished by the end of June. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) has tightened its control over W-CDMA network trials and ordered the three operators, particularly China Mobile, to stop the current constructions of W-CDMA pre-commercial networks.”

It seems that even though TD-SCDMA is getting more international vendor support and is becoming a more mature technology, the government still wants to “help” the standard gain market traction among the main operators. China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Netcom have all been building a number of WCDMA trial networks, many unapproved by the MII. The MII has ordered them to stop building new WCDMA networks.

There are still plenty of uncertainties regarding who will get the 3G licenses first and who are likely to adopt the standard. Although China Mobile has publicly voiced its preference for W-CDMA, it’s still possible that it could operate a hybrid TD-SCDMA and W-CDMA network. I believe Siemens and other vendors have been touting the complimentary nature of the two technologies and the easy migration from GSM to TD-SCDMA. There are also companies working on dual-mode chipsets.

Related, there is another interesting article from Unstrung. You can find a link here.
The article talks about the speculations from Jefferies & Co. analyst George Notter, who formed his thesis based on the information he collected from 3GSM. He believes that the government may break up Unicom and give the GSM piece to China Telecom, which will then combine it with TD-SCDMA. China Netcom, the second largest fixed line operator, will acquire the CDMA piece. Currently, China Mobile has more than 250 million subscribers (4.1 million in Jan. 2006) and China Unicom has close to 130 million (1.3 million in Jan. 2006).

There are always plenty of conspiracy theories about China’s telecom market, since the market is less transparent than western markets. Many of such theories will be proven wrong in the end but I do believe that first TD-SCDMA will happen-the government has great hope for it, has waited for so long, and won’t let go, and second, the market will become more open and Chinese companies, especially public companies. have to learn to become more accountable for shareholders, not the government.


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