3G mobile in China: 8 things you need to know

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In November 2007, I wrote an article for iMedia Connection lamenting the delays in the 3G rollout in China and how it's affected the pace of mobile marketing adoption. I'm happy to report that on May 17, all three Chinese mobile operators will be releasing 3G mobile services across most major cities nationwide. As marketing professionals, here are a few things you should know to help you better understand what's happening and what you can do to take advantage of this new transition in the telecom industry.

1.       Not all 3G is created equal
Firstly, please note that all three Chinese carriers have been issued licenses for different 3G standards, so the phones of each carrier cannot be used with the SIM cards of the others. To take advantage of the full capabilities of each carrier's 3G services, subscribers will need to apply for new phone numbers starting with 189, 188 or 186 depending on the carrier of your choice. 

Tip: Which carrier will benefit the most from 3G? China Mobile has the Chinese developed TDS-CDMA standard which is the newest standard with some advantages in technologies (i.e. QoS), but is less mature and stable than the other standards. Their ramp rate is not expected to be too fast initially.
China Telecom has the US developed CDMA2000 standard and will have the best network coverage in China in the near term with over 300 cities covered by mid-May (compared to about 50 for the other two carriers). China Unicom has the WCDMA standard, which is the most widely adopted international 3G standard, and many newer high-end cell phones already support this standard with just a SIM card change. Also, rumors say Apple will partner with China Unicom on the iPhone, which will also help it ramp users in the near term.

2.       3G adoption won't happen overnight 
Although all three 3G standards offer advantages to users and carriers, it will take a fair amount of time for there to be mass adoption of 3G in China. Analysts are predicting about 200 million 3G subscribers within 24 months of launch. That will be about 25 percent of the total user base at that time, but will likely include a large number of the influencers and high-value subscribers within the population. All three carriers will provide subscribers with special sign up promotions and attractive data plans to accelerate user adoption.

Tip: Although 3G will get the headlines in the news, the near-to-mid term marketing programs should still be focused on 700+ million 2G and 2.5G users, although it certainly won't hurt to have some elements in the campaigns allowing 3G users to get some special experiences. 

3.       3G will enable richer mobile experiences
3G networks can offer transfer speeds that are five to 50 times faster than 2.5G networks. Along with the new and improved handsets, user experiences can certainly be much smoother and richer. These capabilities will allow for some exciting models of communication and interaction including steaming video, audio, 3D gaming, on-phone applets, etc.

Tip: For luxury brands or service/products targeting white collars, utilizing some of these new mobile technologies to communicate with your audience could get you noticed and create some good word-of-mouth results beyond your expectations. A simple thing to do (with relatively low additional cost) is having a richer mobile site targeted at 3G users in addition to standard WAP mobile sites.

For mass market campaigns, do continue to integrate 2G/2.5G mobile elements that will work on older phones such as SMS, MMS and simple WAP sites. With so much more content and
information on the mobile internet, search will become more and more important. Don't forget to put mobile search into your marketing mix as you do with web search today.


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