Pan Weizheng, a 28-year-old Beijing resident, looks at his cellular phone with anger. Every day the number of unwanted, and sometimes disturbing, short messages he receives grows.
"Those messages are all nonsense ranging from real estate sales, lottery winners... to pornographic jokes," he said.
"It really annoys me when they come at midnight or early in the morning and ruin my sleep." he complained.
Pan is not the only one who suffers from the rampant distribution of junk short messages.
Short messaging services, or SMS, refer to brief text messages sent on mobile phones. SMS has been increasingly accepted by handset users because they are both cheap and instant.
As mobile telecommunications in the country grow, so do cases of unwanted messages. Some have even made headlines in many newspapers when mobile phone subscribers feel offended or even cheated by those messages.
China is the world's biggest cellular market, with 282 million subscribers by the end of February, government statistics show.
"The Ministry of Information Industry (MII) is currently working on a regulation to better supervise and standardize the SMS market," said an official with MII who declined to be identified.
The proposed regulation is now being circulated among related government sectors as well as experts for comment, he said, adding there is no timetable in place yet on when it will be issued.
According to him, the regulation will detail all the behavior, which may negatively affect SMS subscribers.
All the responsibility and obligations of telecom operators, Internet service providers (ISPs) and Internet content providers (ICPs) will also be stated.
Meanwhile, the new regulations will outline penalties for violations of related telecom and SMS regulations.
"All disturbing SMS should be eradicated to help standardize the market and ensure the healthy development of the industry," said Chen Jinqiao, director of the Chinese Academy of Telecommunications Research under the Ministry of Information Industry (MII).
"The advent of the regulation on SMS is very necessary as it has become an increasingly effective way for many people to be informed and connected in their daily life," he emphasized.
SMS has turned out to be a core value-added business for mobile phone operators to maintain profitability.
MII figures show that the country's 260 million mobile phone users sent a total of 220 billion SMS messages last year to shore up the booming "thumb economy."
Last month, China Mobile Ltd, China Mobile Communications Corp's listed arm in Hong Kong, for example, posted a revenue of 9.9 billion yuan for its short messaging service business last year, registering a surge of 134 per cent from the previous year.
The company announced a net profit of 35.5 billion yuan (US$4.3 billion) for its 2003 fiscal year, up 9 per cent from the previous year.
SMS has also become a revenue generator for ISPs and ICP.
Statistics showed that ISPs and ICPs reaped a total revenue of 2.77 billion yuan (US$333 million) from SMS last year. The figure is expected to reach 4.43 billion yuan (US$533 million) this year.
(Xinhua News Agency April 17, 2004)