3G with Chinese characteristics

Last week 3G connections finally became available in some cities in China. However, not the regular 3G standard that works on my Nokia phone, but the home-grown TD-SCDMA standard. This means I need to buy a new phone in order to have a high-speed mobile internet connection, which is a bit of a hassle. But that’s not all, because for some reason China Mobile decided that you also need to buy a new telephone number starting with 157. Great… Then I would need to have two phones and two numbers to carry around with me. I decided to wait a few days and ask others for their first impressions.

Well, according to the Shanghai Daily the first experiences are not very good. Main problems are that there are currently only 6 models on the market that support the “Time Division-Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access” standard, and most of them are not working that well. Low battery life is one complaint, and some people had to replace their new handsets because even some of the new ones could only handle 2G connections. And during a China Mobile demonstration of video calling, callers could clearly see each other – until one of them moved. Not what you expect when you buy a phone for that purpose.

Next to that the signal seems to be quite unstable. The signal should be available everywhere within the Outer Ring Road, at the Formula One circuit and along Metro lines, but that is not yet the case. I assume they wanted to roll out the service too quickly, and this will get better in the next couple of weeks. Better models should become available later this year, among others from Dopod. Out of the current 6 models only one model looked OK to me, the ZTE U980. But at RMB 3800 it’s extremely expensive, I got my iPhone for that price in China with much better specifications (but no TD-SCDMA). Being a gadget freak I actually almost bought the ZTE this week, until I was told that it does not switch automatically to 3G if the network becomes available (or the other way around). With the current crappy signal I think I’d better wait a few weeks, instead of being a guinea pig for China Mobile.

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