After eight years of development, TD-SCDMA - China's struggling 3G standard - is ready for its close-up. The TD-SCDMA Industry Alliance (TDIA) declared the Beijing-backed 3G technology ready for large-scale commercial deployment last month.
China Mobile, China Netcom and China Telecom have reportedly begun commercial trials in Beijing, Qingdao and Xiamen, respectively, with plans to offer TD-SCDMA services 'soon' to about 10,000 users. Meanwhile, Datang Mobile Communications Equipment is conducting its own trial in Hong Kong, while ZTE is carrying out a trial overseas in Romania.
TDIA secretary-general Yang Hua attributes the recent progress to wider support from local and international vendors, which have established an industry value chain covering chipsets, core system, RF, terminals, and test and measurement.
Meanwhile, Datang Mobile, one of TD-SCDMA's key champions, has launched the Arena initiative, which includes an open lab to address handset interoperability issues and help service providers and content providers accelerate the development of TD-SCDMA apps and services.
But the most encouraging news is the progress made on TD-SCDMA's weakest link to date: the terminal side. Previous handset problems have been resolved, Yang says. Evidence: the 20+ handset makers, including Datang Mobile, ZTE and BenQ, showcased over 40 models of TD-SCDMA handsets at ITU Telecom World 2006 in Hong Kong last month, including dual-mode TD-SCDMA/HSDPA data cards and handsets.
TD-SCDMA's compatibility with W-CDMA could be crucial to its success, according to UMTS chairman Jean-Pierre Bienaime, who says that despite claims from the TDIA that TD-SCDMA can run as a standalone network, a dual-mode GSM/TD-SCDMA or W-CDMA/TD-SCDMA network makes for a better business case.
'China is a huge market and there is room for TD-SCDMA to develop and expand progressively in the country,' Bienaime told Telecom Asia. 'But it's more reasonable to build a dual-mode network so that Chinese operators can benefit from the European and Japanese experience and address market demand efficiently.'
There's also the roaming issue, Bienaime adds, pointing out that standalone TD-SCDMA would shut out roaming GSM users from overseas as well as its own users when they travel abroad.
That said, Bienaime notes that this may not be a major worry in the longer term as TD-SCDMA is designed to follow the same evolution roadmap as W-CDMA.
Indeed, Datang Mobile, ZTE and Alcatel Shanghai Bell have unveiled core TD-SDMA equipment supporting HSDPA, and by 2008, says the TDIA's Yang, TD-SCDMA will support the 3GPP's LTE (Long Term Evolution) toward next-gen mobile.
However, Mark Chapman, senior VP and general manager of Comarco - which sells T&M equipment for TD-SCDMA - says that TD-SCDMA still has a way to go to prove itself in the 3G arena.
'If you're going to test something like spectral efficiency, which is one of the key advantages of TD-SCDMA, you have to run it in a real world environment on a fully loaded network, not in a lab,' Chapman says.
He went on to describe plans to have TD-SCDMA up and running commercially by the 2008 Olympic Games as 'courageous'.