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September 24, 2009

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Incoming cell phone services free at last

CHINA Telecom will give its users free incoming call services starting next month, making the company the first carrier to adopt a long-awaited one-way charge system for all customers.

The move by the country's third-largest mobile carrier, announced yesterday, has been expected by phone users for the past decade and received new impetus earlier this year when the head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the entire telecommunications industry would eventually adopt one-way charges.

The two other mobile carriers said yesterday they will follow suit but did not say when, though they have announced other discounts.

More than 700 million mobile users in China are charged for both receiving and making calls: an average of 0.12 yuan (2 US cents) per minute for local incoming calls and about 0.4 yuan a minute for receiving calls from out of town.

China Telecom will launch the free incoming call service on October 1 and will also begin selling 70 new third-generation phones that cost less than 1,000 yuan each, half the average 2G price.

The company's move points up the fierce competition among the three carriers in the domestic telecommunications market, especially in the 3G era, which started when the country issued licenses in January, analysts said.

The high-speed 3G networks allow users access to new services such as film downloads and video calls and generate profits for carriers that are higher than traditional voice services.

"Every player has to attract more new users as quickly as possible, even if an aggressive pricing strategy brings a loss," said Sandy Shen, an analyst at Gartner Inc, a US-based IT research firm.

The other carriers have announced cuts of their own. China Mobile, which has more than 500 million handset users on China's mainland, has reduced its international roaming fee by as much as 80 percent, the country's No. 1 mobile operator said yesterday.

China Unicom, meanwhile, allows free incoming calls for its 3G users.

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