I have found my TD-SCDMA experience to be so far disappointing.
Shanghai. October 17. INTERFAX-CHINA – As one of the 60,000 lucky people that have been chosen by China Mobile to participate in the free trials of its 3G service based on China’s homegrown TD-SCDMA technology, I have found my TD-SCDMA experience to be so far disappointing.
I received the TD-SCDMA phone, an Amoi T5, at my office on Sept. 11 from an express delivery service – about eight days after China Mobile notified me of the enrollment. I was excited to get my hands on a TD-SCDMA phone. My coworkers, none of whom had used 3G phones, were just as anxious as me to see what the phone could do.
However, when I inserted the USIM card and battery and switched on the phone, it did not work. The screen said “Emergency calls only.” I called the customer service and was told that the phone would be activated in two to three days’ time. So I had a 3G phone in hand but could do nothing with it. That was disappointing.
I waited patiently for three days and nothing happened. I called the customer service again and was told to wait a little longer.
On Sept. 17, while in my apartment, I found that the TD-SCDMA phone was finally activated. A “T” symbol and “China Mobile TD” showed up on the screen, which meant it was in TD-SCDMA mode. When in GSM mode, a “G” symbol and “China Mobile” are displayed on the screen.
It was not until then that I read my agreement with China Mobile carefully. I found out that I was required to fill out a questionnaire every two weeks to give feedback about the TD-SCDMA trial services. I am given RMB 800 ($117.14) of credit every month to spend on TD-SCDMA services and the government will decide when to stop the trial.
Now I have been testing the Amoi T5 for almost a month and have found my experience to be disappointing so far. The major turn-off is the poor TD-SCDMA signal, not to mention the phone’s insensitive keypad and touch screen, slow reactions, a not-so-pretty user interface and the phone overheating problem after I connect to the mobile Internet for more than ten minutes, which causes the phone to heat up to an uncomfortable level.
The TD-SCDMA signal is quite unstable. Even though I leave the Amoi T5 on the table untouched, one minute it shows TD-SCDMA mode and another minute it shows GSM mode. The signal strength on the Amoi T5 is, in most cases, two to three signal bars, which is much weaker than the signal strength on my 2G phone, a Sony Ericsson W958c.
Sometimes the Amoi T5 hits a dead spot when switching between TD-SCDMA and GSM. The “Emergency calls only” sign shows up on the screen and all communication functions of the phone come to a stop.
Voice call and SMS
These are basic functions of a mobile phone that most users rely on. However, my TD-SCDMA phone performs them worse than my 2G phone. In many circumstances I cannot make calls or send text messages using the Amoi T5. Sometimes I get disconnected in the middle of a call. This is probably related to both the quality of the phone and network coverage.
When in a conversation, the phone does not provide the option to switch between the Bluetooth headset and the phone’s speaker, while most 2G phones on the market do.
Although video call is the key TD-SCDMA application that China Mobile is trying to push, I don’t use it so often for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t have so many friends that have TD-SCDMA mobile phones. The poor TD-SCDMA coverage has narrowed my chance of making video calls even more. Video calls only work if both parties in the call use TD-SCDMA phones and are both within TD-SCDMA coverage. Secondly, I am often concerned about my looks on the camera – I don’t want to use the video call when I’m in my pajamas or don’t look at my best. Thirdly, I am worried that the person I call may find video calls intrusive. Video calls are three times as expensive as voice calls. The high fee would become the fourth factor that stops me from making video calls if I had to pay for them.
After several failed attempts, I finally made the first video call successfully on Oct. 10 on a subway platform. The quality was better than I expected. The video transmission was fairly smooth and the image was not highly pixellated. However, it was almost impossible for me to hear my friend in the noisy setting. A headset is needed in such a situation.
All the video calls that I have placed so far are for test purposes and at least half of them have failed to connect.
A friend of mine who is also a TD-SCDMA trial user told me that the use of Bluetooth headsets – supported during voice calls – is not supported during video calls on the Amoi T5. This is something that needs to be fixed.
Mobile TV, like the video call, is another typical 3G application. When I connected to the “mobile TV” section of China Mobile’s WAP portal, Monternet, I found a WAP page that displays live TV channels to be watched on TD-SCDMA phones. The video playing was smoother than on my 2G phone but the image is still highly pixellated.
I imagine that it would be more convenient for users to access the mobile TV service from a client-based program that provides an electronic service guide.
When browsing WAP pages on my TD-SCDMA phone, I do not notice any significant increase in download speed compared to my 2G phone.
When I try to download songs from China Mobile’s 12530.com music site, I can only download short versions to be used as ring tones, not the full song tracks. This has surprised me because full song track download is one of the TD-SCDMA services being promoted by China Mobile.
Mobile stock trading, Fetion instant messaging, a mobile map service and “Music on the move” are the main pre-installed applications that came with the Amoi T5. The latter three have obvious resemblance to Tencent’s QQ, Google Maps and Apple’s iTunes.
The four applications are all helpful if they function properly. However, due to poor network connection I can rarely get them to work.
The mobile map service allows users to pinpoint locations on a digital map. It can detect the user’s location and provide public transportation or driving directions to a destination. This application could be very valuable to drivers and tourists. However, the RMB 12 ($1.76) monthly charge would seem acceptable if only the triangulation function were more precise. The triangulation function failed to return any results when I tested it in my apartment, located in a central part of Shanghai. On another occasion, it told me I was in a district that was about 40 kilometers away from my actual location, again in the center of Shanghai.
The question is, why would people pay for it if another company, such as Google, provides it for free?
Music on the move is a service that I am willing to pay for and the RMB 5 ($0.73) monthly charge is reasonable. I have found online music playing on the TD-SCDMA phone to be smoother than that on my 2G phone. However, I still encounter three to four pauses in a song probably due to insufficient bandwidth. Downloads are more practical. I want a reliable service if I need to pay for it.
I have not been able to install any third-party applications, such as MSN messenger and the mobile Gmail client, on my TD-SCDMA phone. The Amoi T5 is a feature phone, not a smartphone, and therefore its functions can barely be extended through third-party software. This is a turn-off for 3G phone users, who are supposedly keen about data applications. Third-party applications that support TD-SCDMA feature phones are rare at present.
Encouraging news for Chinese 3G fans is that Dopod and Samsung have both launched Windows Mobile operating system-based TD-SCDMA smartphones. ZTE recently launched the world’s first HSDPA/TD-SCDMA smartphone running on Windows Mobile.
Now Samsung, Motorola and LG are already supporters of TD-SCDMA. I believe further growth of the TD-SCDMA value chain needs involvement from Nokia and Sony Ericsson, whose products are well supported by third-party application developers.
About four months ago, Interfax published telecom expert Mr. Hou Ziqiang’s guest column titled “Is TD-SCDMA being euthanized?” (http://www.interfax.cn/news/3484) Hou pointed out four major problems with China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA services, namely the lack of number portability, high data fees, poor network coverage and the lack of support for third-party software.
China Mobile has recently initiated number portability trials to allow mobile phone users to keep their existing GSM numbers and SIM cards when switching to TD-SCDMA networks. It has also launched cheaper TD-SCDMA data packages to target students. From this, I see that China Mobile has taken measures to address the first two problems mentioned by Hou.
However, despite China Mobile’s efforts to promote TD-SCDMA through TV commercials and outdoor ads, the uptake is still slow because the quality of services has not been significantly improved.
According to statistics released by China Mobile, there were approximately 270,000 TD-SCDMA users as of Sept. 20. The majority of them are non-paying users, such as China Mobile employees, people who participated in the organization of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and trial users, like me. Even promotions during the Olympics did not boost TD-SCDMA adoption significantly. By Sept. 20, only 38,000 people had actually purchased TD-SCDMA mobile phones and were paying for the services.
Given that China Mobile has spent RMB 15 billion ($2.2 billion) putting TD-SCDMA in place in ten cities and is going to spend another RMB 30 billion ($4.4 billion) to expand the network coverage to 28 new cities, it does not make sense to say that the carrier is “mercy killing” TD-SCDMA, after putting so much into it.
Rather, I believe that the under-development of the value chain – from hardware to software and to content services – is to blame for restricting TD-SCDMA takeoff in China.
With China’s gloomy economy and the background of the global financial crisis, consumers’ demand for high-end mobile data applications is likely to shrink. At least in the short term, the prospect of China’s TD-SCDMA market does not look rosy.
Or shall we just hold off until 4G is available?
One thing I am sure about is that I will not pay RMB 2,500 ($366.06) for the Amoi T5, or any money for China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA service, in its current state.
Read post via Interfax > HERE
Iris Hong is senior reporter at Interfax TMT China