As the world's largest 3G market limbers up for the second phase of testing, there's something for all camps to cheer. But little-noticed comments earlier this year suggest that China sees export potential for its home grown 3G specification: and that potentially has huge ramifications for the global market.
China has invested heavily in time-division synchronous CDMA (TD-SCDMA), an overlay onto GSM networks, which so far has widely been seen as a bargaining counter against the European W-CDMA (now rebranded 3GSM) and US CDMA 2000 camps. As a backgrounder from Siemens, the lead European investor in TD-SCDMA puts it, not so subtly, "[China's] development of its own mobile standard, especially one that has distinct technological
advantages with respect to other standards, is a great source of national pride not to mention the large savings in royalty fees."
However, the PRC has also been building up a regional chain of suppliers for the as-yet immature technology. In addition, Siemens, Philips and Samsung have also been lending a hand. And further comments suggest that 3G's sluggish acceptance in the occident allows China a commercial opportunity.
"The market for the TD-SCDMA system is not only confined to China, and its commercial value is for the whole world," Zhu Gaofeng, director-general of China Communications Standardization Association told the China Daily.
The same report also finds the head of the Chinese information ministry, MII, Zhang Qi arguing that deployment delays to W-CDMA give TD-SCDMA an additional window of opportunity.
There's little indication yet of interest outside China in TD-SCDMA. GSM operators who don't have 3G licenses, or wish to squeeze higher data rates out of their 2G networks are opting for the "2.75G" EDGE capabilities. Nokia says its base stations have been EDGE-capable since 2001. But a technical path already exists, marrying TDD low chip rate (TDD-LCR) to W-CDMA L2 and L3.
China already has 250 million cellular subscribers, and is expected to allocate 3G licenses by early next year at the latest. But it's a fascinating indication that the PRC sees technology investment going both ways.