TD-SCDMA may not make Olympics deadline

The clock is ticking toward the Beijing Olympic Games, but TD-SCDMA is too slow and unstable at present for commercial roll out, say experts.

China's scramble to meet its deadline to roll out TD-SCDMA handsets by the Olympic Games this year will be "challenging", according to industry watchers.

The primary reason, say analysts, is that the homegrown 3G technology is still immature, as a result of China being late to the game.

Mark Natkin, managing director at Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia: "Will [TD-SCDMA] be ready by August? Like any smart better, I'm reluctant to really throw out a hard bet on that one. It will be challenging to work out all the technical issues."

Those issues include connectivity being hampered when the devices are used in moving vehicles, leading to dropped calls and interrupted Web browsing--a problem that was already seen back in 2003.

According to a China Business News report released last week, the current batch of TD-SCDMA chipsets do not support HSDPA or EDGE, with maximum data speeds hitting 384 Kpbs only.

Another report carried by the South Metropolitan News last month said slow switching between TD-SCDMA and GSM networks, resulting in delayed video calls, is another issue hampering commercial roll out.

Natkin said: "There are some things you can throw more people and money at and accelerate, and there are some things you cannot." While the industry players may be "throwing as much [money] as they can" at development efforts, he said, it all comes down to the question of what is the "minimum functionality they're willing to launch this with".

Furthermore, analyst firm Ovum said in September last year that the delay by the Chinese government in announcing industry standards and license details was slowing down investment.

Kevin Li, an analyst with In-Stat said in a statement released June last year that the awarding of 3G licenses has been delayed due to the "technological immaturity of TD-SCDMA", and said in a later study released December that the resultant uncertainty around the technology's future has led to TD-SCDMA chipset vendors focusing on developing features rather than stability of the chipsets.

On China's push to develop its own 3G technology, Natkin said the country came to the game very late. It is so far behind its two competitors, W-CDMA and CDMA2000, in terms of maturity that it would be difficult for China to push it and have much uptake globally, Natkin noted.

"There is an increasing sense that more resources and energy will be focused on 4G standards," added Natkin.

Natkin expects TD-SCDMA's speed issues to be its largest turnoff for customers. Users expect a large jump from the earlier, slower WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) to 3G, but TD-SCDMA is falling short of that mark.

"The speed has to be satisfactory, or people will not be interested. People will only learn to use a new device if there is an increase in functionality great enough to justify [learning]," said Natkin.

The country's largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, is in the midst of constructing TD-SCDMA networks in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.

The carrier earlier in February issued the first TD-SCDMA licenses to ZTE, Hisense, LG, Samsung, Lenovo and New Postcom. According to, these suppliers are expected to take 60 percent of the total phone procurement value.

According to China Business News reports, China Mobile will soon open a second round of tenders and is expected to purchase 300,000 TD-SCDMA handsets in this round.