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Wi-Fi rules relaxed for cell phones

CHINA has relaxed a long-term restriction on Wi-Fi functions on mobile phones, which will improve the mobile Internet experience and boost sales of smart handsets, Shanghai Daily learned today.

That will probably solve the biggest obstacle for the Wi-Fi-enabled Apple iPhone's entry into the domestic market, industry insiders said.

Motorola Inc and Nokia Corp's two models, which also support home-grown WAPI and Wi-Fi, have debuted in China.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has informed related companies to send models for market-entry tests. The models must support WAPI, and optionally Wi-Fi, handset makers told Shanghai Daily.

"A mobile phone without Wi-Fi is like a film with too many scenes cut. It's not complete," said Ashley Liu, analyst of In-Stat, a US-based IT research firm.

In the past few years, China had restricted Wi-Fi functions on phone to prevent people using Internet calls like Skype, which were thought to be against the interests of state-owned mobile carriers, such as China Mobile.

Now the country is trying to promote WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure), a home-developed wireless connection technology with higher security than Wi-Fi. This also opened the door to Wi-Fi, which is now widely used in personal computers, game consoles and smart phones, industry officials said.

WAPI and Wi-Fi can be swapped through software so it won't cost much more for handset makers to launch these phones in China.

Motorola, which launched a phone supporting WCDMA (wideband code division multiple access), Wi-Fi and WAPI in China last week, will continue to launch more Wi-Fi-enabled phones in the domestic market, according to Derek Li, Motorola's vice president.
Shenzhen-based ZTE also confirmed today that a CDMA phone with WAPI and Wi-Fi was being tested by MIIT.

"With the relaxing of Wi-Fi, our sales in China will jump another 20 percent because we produce smart phones. They require many online applications," said Jackie Zhang, Dopod's market director.

Wi-Fi allows users to access the Internet where mobile broadband signals are not available or weak. It's seen as vital technology for 3G.

Carriers like China Mobile and China Telecom are constructing Wi-Fi hot spots nationwide.

The sales of Wi-Fi-enabled consumer electronics will reach more than 900 million units by 2012, double 2008's sales, according to In-Stat.

China's WLAN (wireless local area network) equipment market revenue is expected to hit US$350 million in 2009, compared with US$237 million last year, according to IDC Corp, a US-based IT consulting firm.

Wi-Fi will allow relatively smaller mobile carriers, such as China Telecom and China Unicom, to catch up with market leader China Mobile in the domestic market, even though they haven't as many mobile network or user resources, analysts said.


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