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China Unicom Prepares for 3G
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China Unicom Ltd, the smaller of the nation's two mobile operators, is to launch its GPRS package service with Nokia technology in what the company said is an important step in the transition to 3G (third generation) technology.

"We will launch the GPRS package service in January next year," said Song Limei, deputy general manager of Unicom's value-added service.

China Unicom and Nokia China started their first trial run of EGPRS, one of GPRS's package services, in Shanghai yesterday. 3G, the next stage of mobile phone service, has yet to gain government approval in China

Enhanced GPRS (EGPRS), also called EDGE, is a digital mobile phone technology that enhances 2G and 2.5G networks. It can reach 2.75G, and can be upgraded to 3G.

EGPRS supports connection speeds three times larger than the traditional GPRS service. It can be used for a variety of applications, such as Internet, video services, and other multimedia that might benefit from increased data capacity.

"Subscribers can use the mobile phone to send electronic cards, pay small amounts of money, such as railway and bus fare, and send emails," said Zeng Yiqun, a professor at Nokia's technical centre.

Industry watchers have been waiting for three years for the central government to give the green light for 3G. TD-SCDMA, based on 3G, was originally planned to be launched in June, but has been delayed until the beginning of next year.

"We expect 3G licensing to be permitted by the government in the coming months," said Wang Haojie, spokeswoman of Nokia (China) Investment Co Ltd.

Unicom's GSM subscribers increased 9.61 million in the first 10 months to more than 100 million, thanks largely to the company's strategy of diversified branch marketing and continuous upgrades, said Li Gang, vice-president of China Unicom Ltd.

EGPRS meets the International Telecommunication Union's requirements for a 3G network. It offers fast Internet access and better multimedia services. It has been introduced to more than 25 countries, including Japan, South Korea and United States.

EGPRS was first introduced to North America in 2003.

Nokia is the world's largest manufacturer of mobile devices. In 2003, it signed a contract worth US$33 million with China Unicom to expand its Shanghai GSM network.

Nokia has six research centers and four manufacturing bases in China.

(China Daily November 23, 2006)

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