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China Unicom becomes last telco to launch 3G services

CHINA Unicom launched its third-generation services in Shanghai and 54 other cities nationwide yesterday, the last of the three domestic telcos to do so.

With network access 100 times faster than 2G, 3G services include video conferencing and film downloading.

The development of 3G, however, faces challenges from the high price of packages, a lack of top handset models and public concern about radiation from base stations, according to industry insiders.

Apple's iconic 3G iPhone is still not available in the Chinese mainland although industry officials had expected that China Unicom would launch it on the domestic market yesterday, World Telecommunication Day.

China Unicom's 3G services are based on Europe's WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access) system.

"China Unicom will provide consumers unique 3G experience and our advantage is the wide variety of handsets and high speed," said Chen Xu, market director of the telco's Shanghai branch.

The telco has more than 20 WCDMA models available, including Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Huawei and ZTE. It will launch phones from Nokia, Motorola, LG and Sharp next month, Chen said.

China Unicom also launched its monthly fee packages yesterday, and they range from 168 yuan (US$24.61) with 510 minutes of free calls and 60-megabyte data capacity to 1,686 yuan for 7,000 minutes of free calls and 5-gigabyte data capacity.

In January, 3G licenses were issued to China Unicom and its rivals, China Mobile and China Telecom, and the regulator expected that direct investment on 3G would reach 280 billion yuan within three years.

China Mobile began trials of its 3G services based on TD-SCDMA (time division-synchronous CDMA), a home-grown technology, a year ago. By the end of next month, its 3G services will cover 38 cities.

China Telecom started 3G services based on the CDMA 2000 system developed in the United States in 120 cities nationwide last month.

"The 3G service gives carriers an opportunity to diversify business to avoid direct competition on price," said Lu Tingjie, professor at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications.

China Unicom should make use of the advantage of handset variety to attract users while China Telecom can provide users with the bundle of fixed-line and mobile services. China Telecom and China Mobile, however, suffer from a lack of handsets compatible with their 3G technologies.



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