Telecoms size up 4G, skipping China's next-gen wireless

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MACAU, Nov 16 (Reuters) Telecoms equipment companies, frustrated by China's delayed launch of a third-generation wireless system, are developing even faster technologies, but are struggling to pinpoint which one will become most widely adopted.

Moving straight to ''fourth-generation'' broadband -- which promises high quality video and audio to people on the move -- means telecoms companies could leapfrog the political infighting and technology debates that have hamstrung the rollout of 3G in China, the world's largest mobile market.

And as the 3G equipment market becomes saturated and consumers demand faster wireless Internet, companies must develop the next-generation technologies which could make up the future 4G, said K. Jay Miyahara, corporate chief engineer at NEC's mobile network operations unit.

''We're doing both LTE and WiMax. Next-generation technologies take anywhere between five to eight years to realise -- you just can't wait until the 4G hype suddenly pops up and then start making equipment,'' he said at an industry event in Macau.

Foreign and Chinese companies alike -- many of which have been eyeing up a potential billion in network equipment orders based on 3G -- have also thrown their weight behind a government-backed forum promoting a ''beyond 3G'' standard.

Members of the FuTURE Mobile Communications Forum include China's top two telecoms equipment makers, Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp, as well as Germany's Siemens, Finland's Nokia HE>, and Qualcomm and Intel of the United States.

But companies preparing for 4G still aren't sure which technology -- from WiMax to Long Term Evolution -- will become the standard for 4G.

''There's no industry consensus on 4G yet. A lot of people talk about 4G, but companies are still working on the concept,'' said Shen Donglin, vice-president of Wireless Technology for ZTE, China's second-largest telecoms equipment maker.

China is expected to issue 3G licences before the Olympics, but some now predict licences won't be handed out until 2009, as kinks in its homegrown 3G standard, TD-SCDMA, are smoothed out.

In China -- which is running 4G tests and may deploy a 4G network by 2010 -- the telecoms sector may eventually adopt more advanced wireless technologies by restraining investment in 3G and channelling efforts into 4G instead, analyst Wendy Liu, head of China research at ABN AMRO, wrote in a research report.

UP IN THE AIR Regulatory hurdles in China, questions over the technology's commercial viability and differing levels of development across the vast country could impede the launch of 3G, Vice Minister of Information Industry Lou Qinjian has said.

The International Telecom Union's approval of WiMax technology as an international standard last month also dims the outlook for the launch of TD-SCDMA networks, analysts said.

Like TD-SCDMA, WiMax -- Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access -- is also based on core technology TDD and uses the same spectrum, and can transmit more data at much faster speeds than 3G technology.

And LTE, while still largely being developed, promises to offer download rates of 100 Megabits per second, allowing a video clips to be downloaded in a matter of seconds rather than hours.

Beijing-based FuTURE Mobile, which is attached to the China Communications Standard Association, is already testing 4G technology which it hopes to make commercially available by 2010.

''The Chinese government is trying to help its technology industry, as China's technology industry is still young and we don't have a lot of accumulation of intellectual property rights and we face a lot of challenges right now,'' said ZTE's Shen.

But at the Mobile Asia Congress held this week in Macau, a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, telecoms companies debated how to prepare for 4G, and what form it would take.

4G may represent not a single new technology, but involve embedding existing consumer appliances, such as cameras, with cost-effective wireless access as a complement to the main functions, said Ray Owen, head of technology for networks and enterprises at Motorola Asia.

REUTERS BJR SSC1119

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