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China Mobile Begins 3G Marketing Push

China Mobile has begun the marketing push for a public beta of 3G (third-generation) telephony services, signaling that full deployment may be available soon after the Olympics.

Though the company has not yet announced when the service will start, television commercials on Beijing stations and display advertising in Beijing's subway system began appearing earlier this week, encouraging interested users to sign up for trial service. Utilizing China's homegrown TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access), existing China Mobile customers can apply to be included in the trial.

Published rates for eventual commercial service set a 50 yuan (US$7.33) per month minimum and 0.40 yuan per minute for data charges within the user's home city. For users who choose to make video calls instead of plain voice calls, made from their home cities, charges of 0.60 yuan per minute apply, and for the first time, China Mobile will not charge users to receive calls.

While the test began on a very small scale in April, China Mobile is only now looking to expand its scope and generate interest in the new services and technology. After three years of trials of various sizes and in numerous Chinese cities, TD-SCDMA may finally be ready for roll-out.

Existing China Mobile customers can apply through a section of the company's Web site dedicated to the new technology, or in person at a China Mobile office in Beijing. However, application does not guarantee the user will receive a handset. Demand is heavy, a China Mobile customer service representative said by telephone.

The current package, offered until Sept. 30, offers set price trial services. A minimum package of 58 yuan per month in voice services and 100 yuan per month for data services is required. However, the package includes 800 yuan of free voice services and free handset rental during the period.

Six handsets available as part of the trial are: the Dopod s700; Motorola's l800t; Chinese handset maker Haixin's T66; LG's KD876; Lenovo's TD800; and Samsung's i688.

The i688 is one of four models of handset that Samsung, an official Olympic sponsor, supplied to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) for use during the Olympics next month. The Korean company gave BOCOG more than 15,000 TD-SCDMA devices, with the Chinese standard being used to provide limited 3G services, via China Mobile, also an official sponsor, to Olympic VIPs, officials and journalists.

TD-SCDMA was developed as part of a larger Chinese effort to create technology standards that would not require the payment of royalties to foreign patent holders. It is not compatible with any other 3G standard, and China's carriers have not indicated they will support any other 3G standard. However, given the size of China's domestic mobile market -- about 550 million users -- even 10 percent penetration would give TD-SCDMA more users than in many nations.

China Mobile doesn't even officially have a license to offer commercial 3G services. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which regulates the telecommunications industry, has not yet issued such licenses, although China Mobile -- the nation's and world's largest mobile service operator -- is virtually guaranteed one, as are newly-created giants China Netcom and China Telecom.

The latter two merged with smaller carriers earlier this year to create a trio of operators that would all have fixed-line and mobile assets. Foreign operators are not permitted to offer services in China, so there will likely be no multibillion-dollar auction of spectrum as occurred in some European markets.

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