3G “to fail” in China, says 4G forum

Third generation mobile technology will be largely unsuccessful and nothing more than a stop gap in China, according to the country’s administrative body for the development of fourth generation wireless.

On Thursday, Willie Lu, an independent special advisor for China’s 4G administration and chairman of Fourth Generation Mobile Forum (4GMF), said that the country’s foresightedness was the reason for China’s plodding 3G licensing strategy.

While the rest of the world has busied itself with licensing 3G and getting services off the ground, China’s ‘on again, off again’ approach has been the subject of much guesswork and frustrated analysis.

The most recent estimates suggest between two and three licenses will be awarded in the first quarter of next year and will likely result in a complete transformation of China’s telecommunications landscape, with the country’s fixed and mobile operators broken up and re-merged as different entities.

“Based on the China specific situation, history, culture and development unbalance, 3G will not be successful,” said Lu, who believes that an open wireless architecture is “the only solution to move China forward to the next level of success in this industry so that the future mobile phone, like the computer, can be DIY – a 100 per cent consumer product”.

According to Lu, China believes that 3G does not fundamentally improve the 2G architecture and therefore it becomes a transitional solution, while the country looks beyond 3G mobile communications.

The crux of Lu’s argument is that the 3G system has suffered worldwide because of a “closed architecture and proprietary systems”. Indeed, hidden intellectual property licensing costs and the resulting escalating costs of kit have caused rifts between various industry factions and effectively lead to the industry’s patent regime being labelled as unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory.

China’s plan is to construct “an open architecture based broadband wireless communication system” much along the same lines as the open computer architecture in the computer industry and open network architecture in the internet space.

Whether or not the strategy will be successful remains to be seen. China followed the same path with the development of its homegrown TD-SCDMA platform as an industry standard for 3G – or at least intended to see the technology mandated for use by all domestic operators.

However, the country has been forced to revise its strategy under pressure from the industry to allow for the rollout of WCDMA. Now it looks like just one 3G license will be mandated for TD-SCDMA.

Lu predicts that China’s initial 4G networks will be deployed in early 2012, while the 4GMF will present its 4G standardisation strategy at the ITU Telecom World 2006 conference in Hong Kong in December.

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