China Mobile, the country's largest cellphone operator, will next week launch the pre-commercial service of third generation (3G) mobile phone telephony based on a home-grown standard.
The TD-SCDMA service will be available in eight cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, starting from April 1, China Mobile said on Friday.
The roll-out of the pre-commercial service, which is seen as a prelude to the formal licensing of 3G mobile technologies in the country, means the government might be able to fulfill its promise of providing 3G services during the upcoming Olympics, which provide faster downloading speed and mobile Internet access.
TD-SCDMA competes with Europe-initiated WCDMA and US-backed CDMA 2000. Unlike the two rival foreign standards, TD-SCDMA has yet to be commercially deployed. It has been tested by the government and operators for a long time, which is believed to have continuously delayed 3G licensing in the country.
The latest pre-commercial launch could be crucial to Chinese technology, which industry observers believe still needs a lot of technical improvements to compete with WCDMA and CDMA2000.
"I think China's TD-SCDMA still has at least one year to go before it becomes a mature technology," said Wang Yuquan, president of Frost & Sullivan China, a marketing consultant. "There are many technical defects and problems to be solved during the pre-commercial tests."
Although the government has yet to decide when to license the 3G technologies and which standards operators should adopt, there have been growing signs China Mobile could be mandated to adopt TD-SCDMA though fixed-line carriers China Telecom and China Netcom are also running TD-SCDMA trial networks.
Gao Songge, spokesman for China Mobile Communications Corp (CMCC), parent of Hong Kong-listed China Mobile Ltd, said a newly-established subsidiary will take over the pre-commercial services and network tests, noting that it will not affect the business performance of the mobile operator.
China Mobile started building its first TD-SCDMA test network in Xiamen, Fujian province, in 2006.
Last year it expanded the network into Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Qinhuangdao with an investment of over 20 billion yuan ($2.85 billion).
Gao said the current TD-SCDMA trial network could support up to 8 million users. But he declined to disclose how long the pre-commercial service will last or how many users are expected to sign up for the service.
The number of mobile phone users in China reached 565 million by the end of last month.
China Mobile's revenue increased 20.9 percent to 357 billion yuan ($51 billion) last year, with profits surging 31.9 percent to 87 billion yuan ($12.4 billion).