Yesterday China finally issued its 3G licenses, not only for its home-grown TD-SCDMA network, but also for the European W-CDMA and for the US/Japanese/Korean CDMA2000 standard. China Mobile got the first one, China Unicom received the W-CDMA and China Telecom was awarded the CDMA2000 license.
China Mobile, China’s biggest mobile phone provider with over 400 million users, already set up its network a couple of months ago, but the performance was quite bad. They gave away lots of TD-SCDMA phones for free but most people were still unhappy with the service. If I remember correctly 80-90% of all users were dissatisfied! I hope for them that they will get their act together, because they will face some competition soon. The CDMA2000 network will start in the next 4-6 months in Beijing and Shanghai, to be followed by WCDMA.
So far you had to buy a new phone and get a new number to start using TD-SCDMA, but that is not the case anymore. You just need to buy an official 3G TD-SCDMA phone (so far only crappy models are available, but Nokia and Samsung are developing new phones) and plug in your China Mobile SIM card. If you’re currently not a China Mobile user you have bad luck and you will need to apply for a new number. If you are a China Telecom or Unicom user you can use that number for 3G services once their network will be rolled out.
The 3G speed was announced to be up to 14.4 megabit/second, but of course that’s a theoretical speed. Costs are the same as for GPRS. There will not be an unlimited data plan yet, but starting prices are reasonable at RMB 20 (EUR 2.20) for 150 MB.
An online survey by Sina.com showed that 65% of the 130,000 respondents said that they would switch to 3G. If the adoption rate will indeed be so high mobile internet in China will take off very soon, and it will change the Internet landscape considerably. I look forward to all the business opportunities that this will provide.
Although I am normally an early adopter, I will probably wait until decent phones come out before I make the switch to TD-SCDMA. My iPhone won’t work anyway on the China Mobile 3G network, and I do not want to change my number. I am anyway planning to eventually get rid of my iPhone, because it still does not support FlashLite (in my opinion a big mistake by Apple). Hopefully Nokia will roll out its N97 with the Chinese 3G standard, in that case I will switch right away.