The 2008 Summer Olympics is going to be China's coming out party, a chance for the country to show its modern face to the world.
To that end, the Chinese government is pouring billions of dollars into new roads, modern stadiums, and an expanded subway network to prepare for the games. With less than 400 days until the opening ceremony on Aug. 8, 2008, workers and officials appear on track to have everything ready.
Everything, that is, except 3G, or third-generation mobile technology.
China remains one of the few Asian countries without 3G service, despite years of breakneck economic development and a love of high technology. Telecom analysts and industry insiders have long sought to divine the plans of China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII), which regulates the telecommunications sector, to give operators licenses for the technology.
Year after year, the forecast was always for licenses to be issued later this year or early next year. Eventually, most observers gave up guessing, tired of the game, as foreign equipment makers waited for a presumed surge in orders for 3G gear that never came.
The main obstacle was TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access), a 3G standard that was largely developed in China and remains unproven. The Chinese government spent heavily on TD-SCDMA development, and officials won't give the go-ahead for 3G licenses until the technology is ready for deployment.
When that might happen is anybody's guess. But TD-SCDMA trials are underway in several Chinese cities and Nokia has handsets ready to ship early next year, suggesting the technology may be close to commercial use.
When Beijing won the bid to host the games, officials promised a "High-Tech Olympics" to highlight new technologies and showcase China's economic development. 3G was going to be one of the technologies on display.
"We shall energetically develop the mobile communication technology of the third generation," the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) promised in documents compiled for the city's bid.
After Beijing won the bid, China Mobile Communications (China Mobile), the country's largest mobile operator, described how it planned to use 3G.
The company said visitors would be able to buy tickets for Olympic events and watch live video coverage on their 3G phones, as well as access information about restaurants, shopping and sightseeing. Athletes and staff would also use 3G to access information related to the games, it said.
China's commitment to the use of 3G during the Olympics was reinforced last December by Wang Xudong, China's minister of information industry, who promised operators would have 3G licenses in time to build their networks for the Olympic games.
BOCOG officials declined to answer questions concerning the use of 3G during the games, but analysts expect the government to deliver on its 3G commitment.