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China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile carrier with over 376 million customers, announced that it will begin testing the country’s homegrown 3G standard — TD-SCDMA — next week. The carrier said it will issue 20,000 handsets and 5,000 data cards to select customers with free airtime. China Mobile will also offer an additional 40,000 handsets in stores for $7.13 a month, with outgoing calls costing some 6 cents a minute.

China Mobile said the testing will begin April 1 and run through July in eight cities, including Beijing. The government hopes to roll out 3G services before the summer Olympics begin this August.

China is the world’s largest telecommunications market with some 362 million landline subscribers [27 per 100 persons] and some 565 million [42 per 100 persons] mobile cellular subscribers.

TD-SCDMA stands for Time Division – Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access. China began developing its own 3G standard in 2001, in an attempt to compete with other 3G standards including WCDMA (3G). In fact, the government has delayed 3G licensing in part to allow more time for TD-SCDMA to catch up with competing standards. TD-SCDMA uses Time Division on a single channel with time slots allocated for downlink and uplink. CDMA is used within each time slot.

Some criticize the Chinese government for its anti-market practice. China Mobile was directed to develop eight cities out of 10 for the Olympics with TD-SCDMA. But China Mobile, the largest GSM operator in the world, may be able to avoid paying significant WCDMA intellectual property fees and the government could help develop the technology for sale outside the country.

Proponents of TD-SCDMA technology say it has 3 unique advantages in relation to W-CDMA and CDMA2000:

  • Efficient use of the spectrum. GSM and CDMA use frequency pairs (one transmit, one receive), but one channel tends to be unused in GSM and CDMA. More people can use limited spectrum.
  • It’s inexpensive. In TD-SCDMA it is possible to integrate the whole radio (incl. the GSM radio) into one single integrated radio chip because isolation requirements between receive and transmit circuits are non critical in TD-SCDMA.
  • Compatibility to fall back to GSM is much simpler than combining GSM and W-CDMA or GSM and CDMA2000.

Mobile WiMAX also operates with TDMA, but uses COFDMA rather than CDMA.

According the Telecom Magazine, it is estimated the number of cell phone users will continue to grow an average of 54 million a year and reach nearly 900 million by 2013. During that time 3G users will rise from 0.5 percent in 2008 to 25 percent.

Some observers believe China Unicom will merge with China Netcom sometime this year. If China Unicom sells its CDMA operations to China Telecom, the number of 3G licenses would be reduced to three: China Mobile for TD-SCDMA; China Unicom for WCDMA; and China Telecom for CDMA EV-DO.

According to global trade body GSM Association, about 80% of cellular users world-wide use the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) technology, or 2,571 million people. The second largest mobile technology, CDMA (Code Division, Multiple Access), had 421 million users by the end of September, 2007.

Last year, on passing 2 billion GSM users, the GSM Association said China was the largest single GSM market in the world, with more than 370 million users, followed by Russia with 145 million, India with 83 million and the USA with 78 million users. In India, mobile has even become the fastest selling consumer product – pushing bicycles to the number two spot.

India’s wireless subscriber base is now set to become the second largest in the world, after China’s, by mid-April, reports EE Times. India’s 250 million wireless subscriber base will likely surpass that of the 256 million wireless subscriber base in the U.S. during April 2008.

This year, worldwide mobile telephone subscriptions reached 3.3 billion — equivalent to half the global population, according to research firm Informa.

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