China could ‘very soon’ award licences to build 3G mobile networks, the country’s top telecom official said yesterday. ‘I cannot provide a specific timetable, but it could happen very soon,’ Wang Xudong, Minister of Information Industry, told reporters at the ITU Telecom World 2006 being held in Hong Kong. Wang reiterated a commitment to enable operators to offer 3G services during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, saying it is ‘well-founded and feasible’. As a result, some believe licences could be handed out in the first quarter next year; and China Netcom (Hong Kong) CEO Zuo Xunsheng said at the expo that he thought it could be as early as February. Wang would not specify how many 3G licences would be handed out. ‘Government bodies are studying how many licences, three or four, are needed (to be awarded),’ he said.
In a separate but related announcement, Chinese equipment vendor ZTE has revealed that China’s home-grown 3G is finally ready for large-scale commercial use. Speaking to the Financial Times, Yin Yimin, ZTE president, said that equipment based on the Beijing-backed standard could now operate comparably with that of the rival European-led W-CDMA platform and the US-favoured CDMA2000. ‘Can TD-SCDMA now operate as an independent network? We reckon that is no problem. Are there suitable handsets? We reckon we can provide the handsets,’ said Mr Yin in an interview at ZTE’s headquarters in the southern town of Shenzhen. ‘Now it is up to the state and the operators,’ he added.