Convening an international conference on whatever topic in China no longer seems a big deal to the Chinese people or Chinese enterprises, given China's increasing participation in globalization.
However, a forum held late last month in China was something different as it marked a substantial step forward for Chinese telecom operators to take a leading role in the global market in terms of technology, a previous weak point in the country's telecom industry.
The event, Global CDMA R-UIM Forum, jointly launched by China United Telecommunications Corporation (China Unicom) and US Qualcomm (China) Inc in Beijing, was to promote removable user identity module (R-UIM) technology.
As the country's second largest telecom operator, China Unicom is the first telecom operator in the world launching the dual-mode phone service with the application of the R-UIM system, which is attracting increasing attention from telecom operators worldwide.
The two-day forum attracted more than 19 global CDMA (code division multiple access) operators, handset vendors, equipment providers, chipmakers including those from the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Thailand and Indonesia.
The R-UIM is similar to a subscriber identity module (SIM), but designed for networks other than GSM (global system for mobile telecommunications), such as CDMA.
The R-UIM system contains user information and data features on a removable smart card about the size of a postage stamp. The R-UIM is a dual-mode solution that can store both GSM provisioning and CDMA provisioning on a single card.
In another words, CDMA subscribers can insert the dual-mode R-UIM card into a GSM phone and instantly have all their subscription data available in a GSM network.
When used with a GSM handset, the R-UIM operates like a GSM SIM.
For international travelers, the R-UIM allows roaming across CDMA and GSM networks with the same multi-mode terminal.
"We see great prospects for the R-UIM technology as it starts a trend in the development of the CDMA system," said Wang Jianzhou, chairman and president of China Unicom at the forum.
"We are aiming to form an organic international industry value chain to further promote the technology," he said.
The R-UIM technology based on China Unicom's CDMA1X network is, in fact, an international standard.
The R-UIM technology which is based on the CDMA EV-DO network, a third generation (3G) of mobile telecommunications system, is likely to win official appraisal at the end of this year, according to Zhang Zhijiang, director of China Unicom's Technology Department.
"There is only little or almost no change to the CDMA operators network system, but a minor change to handset software to enable the R-UIM system," Zhang said.
Currently, about one fifth of mobile subscribers are using CDMA wireless services. However, only 2 percent of the total subscribers are using R-UIM enabled handsets.
"Therefore, there is great market potential for the R-UIM system," Zhang said.
According to him, the R-UIM system enables users to program personal information and roam between CDMA and GSM networks with a multi-mode device.
Also, it eliminates the need for consumers to program their phones, PDAs and other wireless devices with the same personal information multiple times.
Furthermore, it provides operators with state-of-the-art security for applications like mobile banking and commerce.
"In fact, R-UIM enjoys great popularity in Thailand," said Suraphong Wattana, manager of Terminal Technology and Support of Thai Hutchison CAT.
"The R-UIM technology enables handsets' independence and bolsters the popularity of handsets in the market as once personal data is stored on the R-UIM, it can be removed and reinserted in a new device, transferring all the personal data to the new device without programming," he said.
"We are to enhance direct communications between operators and vendors and establish a long term cooperation mechanism so as to push forward the process of standardization of the R-UIM system worldwide," Wang said.
"And through cooperation, participants in the CDMA industry value chain could effectively reduce production costs, increase handset procurement quantities, and reduce handset prices," he suggested.
He said he hoped to form alliances with operators as much as possible to use the R-UIM system.
"Meanwhile, we are willing to provide operating consulting services and explore investment opportunities for international operators," he said.
Figures show that more than 210 handset models with R-UIM have been launched by 19 vendors so far.
In another development, Wang said that China Unicom has built up a GSM & CDMA dual mode system gateway in Hong Kong, which provides a global roaming service for either GSM users or CDMA users without changing their handsets or phone number.
"The gateway is open to all the telecom operators," he said.
According to Wang, China Unicom has so far outlined three major strategic regions including southern Asian countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and India; southern America and eastern Europe.
Company sources said that it has inked a collaborative agreement with Indonesia State Postal Bureau to help build up a local telecom company.
Analysts believe that China Unicom's active role in driving the R-UIM technology partly reflected China Unicom's ambition to become a competitive multinational.
Amid signs that the mobile and fixed-line giants are trying to consolidate their businesses via all kinds of market maneuvers such as going public, seeking international partnerships and offering differentiated services, China Unicom are also working strenuously to further cash in on its CDMA network.
For example, to differentiate its services from its rival China Mobile, China Unicom officially began its dual-mode mobile phone service in August.
Under the brand name "World Wind," the dual-mode mobile phone service supporting both GSM and CDMA networks enables users to transfer from GSM and CDMA networks automatically.
The new service was hailed by industry experts and insiders as an effective way for China Unicom to fight against China Mobile, which has about two thirds of the country's mobile subscribers.
"As the Chinese Government is unlikely to release 3G licenses early next year, the dual-mode service is likely to become a new revenue and profit generator for China Unicom in the following months," said Chen Jinqiao, director of the China Academy of Telecommunications Research under the Ministry of Information Industry.
Via the dual-mode phone, GSM users of China Mobile or China Unicom have access to high-speed wireless data services through CDMA networks, and this is the best selling point for the services, he said.
Also, the international roaming service is another promising selling point for the dual-mode phone service as there are inconsistent telecommunication standards worldwide.
Currently there are only three brands of dual-mode handsets available on the market manufactured by Motorola, LG and Samsung.
Nevertheless, to attract more subscribers, Chen said the company will further enhance the value-added service based on its CDMA 1X network.
Currently, CDMA1X-based value-added services include a variety of wireless data services such as information browsing, downloading, location-based services, online TV, and real time traffic monitoring.
According to Zhai Yibing, deputy general manager of China Unicom's Value-added Service Department, China Unicom is now in cooperation with more than 600 content providers to provide varied value-added telecom services.
"We registered quick development in the value-added service," he said.
In August alone, revenue from the value-added services totaled 600 million yuan (US$72.2 million).
According to Wang, China Unicom is aiming to make revenue from value-added services account for 10 percent of the company's total revenue this year.
In another development, China Unicom has upgraded all its CDMA networks from 2G to 2.75G.
Domestically, the 2.75G CDMA 1X network has a transmission rate of 153.6 kilobytes per second (kbps).
(China Daily October 13, 2004)