China approves long-delayed 3G mobile licenses

China’s Cabinet said Wednesday it has approved licenses for next-generation mobile phone services in a long-delayed step that is expected to trigger billions of dollars in equipment sales. China is one of the last major markets to roll out third-generation, or 3G, services and the step comes at a critical time for global equipment suppliers as demand elsewhere weakens amid economic turmoil. The government will issue licenses for two global 3G standards and a homegrown Chinese standard, the Cabinet said on its Web site.

The country’s industry minister said in mid-December that Chinese carriers are expected to spend 280 billion yuan ($41 billion) on base stations, switching gear, transmission networks and other infrastructure. It is unclear, however, how much of that will go to global suppliers and how much to China’s fledgling producers.

Wednesday’s announcement did not say which companies would receive licenses. But state media said earlier that China Mobile Ltd., the dominant carrier, would be assigned the Chinese-developed TD-SCDMA standard. The global standards WCDMA and CDMA-2000 are to go to China Unicom Ltd. and China Telecom Ltd., respectively.

The introduction of 3G is expected to trigger a new burst of revenue for the industry as companies develop video, Web browsing and other services supported by the technology.

Beijing repeatedly postponed issuing licenses while it tried to develop its own standard to compete with the global systems.

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