td-scdma.jpg[UPDATED] At last, a clear answer to the question that the mobile communications industry has been asking for more than three years. China is expected to issue its first long-awaited 3G licence in February, according to government officials quoted by the Shanghai Daily.

A two-month trial involving 20,000 customers in five cities started earlier this month and assuming it gives satisfactory results, the government will then issue a licence, which unsurprisingly will require the use of China's home-grown TD-SCDMA technology.

The latter technology has been the subject of much debate in the western telecoms industry which questions why China needs a different 3G standard — elsewhere in the world, 3G networks use either CDMA2000 or WCDMA — and also wonders whether TD-SCDMA will work satisfactorily. The two-month consumer trial is designed to answer China's critics.

According to one official quoted by the Shanghai 'paper, TD-SCDMA handsets have already shown they can surmount technology obstacles such as short battery life and overheating on long calls. About 20 handset models have passed the tests, which were carried out by domestic companies such as ZTE and Datang.

Once the first TD-SCDMA licence is issue, the government is expected to also licenses for CDMA2000 and W-CDMA, thus perpetuation the standards fragmentation that already exists in China, where today's cellular users have to choose between GSM and CDMA networks.

UPDATE: Nevertheless, equipment suppliers seem to have no doubt that the real opportunty lies in TD-SCDMA. Ericsson recently announced that its Chinese operation would abandon CDMA2000 development to focus on TD-SCDMA. The Swedish company has allied with China's ZTE to build TD-SCDMA base stations and plans further investment in the development of products configured for the Chinese standard.

Ericsson has established a TD-SCDMA R&D centre in Nanjing.

See this EngagingChina story for more on TD-SCDMA.

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