td-scdma.jpgRunner-up in this week's prize for least original headline goes to the International Herald Tribune for “Telecom firms await start of 3G network in China.”

The headline could have been written three years ago, for the industry has been waiting at least that long for China to award licences to run 3G cellular networks — see this EngagingChina story for background.

But in recent weeks, expectations have soared that China would take advantage of Telecom World, the mammoth trade show currently running in HK, to finally reveal to the world its 3G plans.

It hasn't happened. The only official statement made at the show came from Wang Xudong, China's minister of the information industry. “China will consider three standards for 3G,” he said. “The timing for issuing 3G licenses will be determined by the market.”

Not quite the show-stopping pronouncement that the western telecom industry flew half way around the world to hear.

Nevertheless, Motorola put a brave face on the whole affair. “We're looking forward to the 3G licence news, I think its coming and we are going to be all ready for that if and when it happens,” said one Motorola executive interviewed by XFN-Asia.

When the licences are finally awarded — before February seems the most popular guess — they are likely to give preference to operators that use China's home-grown TD-SCDMA standard.

China promotes this standard because, unlike existing 3G standards WCDMA and CDMA2000, it does not use technologies that have to be licenced from western companies. Advancing the new standard to commercial readiness has taken a lot longer than originally expected, but now there around 20 manufacturers with more than 100 handset models based on TD-SCDMA, Yang Hua, secretary-general of TD-SCDMA Industry Alliance, told China Daily.

Most of the manufacturers are Chinese, but Samsung and Motorola are also developing TD-SCDMA handsets. The support from foreign brand-name manufacturers such as Motorola, the world's second-largest mobile phone maker, could give a boost to the standard, as the awareness of handset brands among consumers could be crucial to the success of TD-SCDMA after the 3G services are rolled out.

Without support from leading handset manufacturers, TD-SCDMA operators could find it hard to woo consumers, experts argue.

Nokia and Sony Ericsson are still adopting a wait-and-see attitude in the TD-SCDMA handset market.

China would need to spend 100bn yuan to build a network based on TD-SCDMA standard. For a network based on one of the existing western standards, the cost would be somewhat less at around 75bn yuan.

More on Telecom World in yesterday's story, .

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