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Chinese walls come down for video calling

Still no reason for video calling, though

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Chinese silicon providers Spreadtrum and Rahotech have announced a new chipset that brings video calling to handsets that straddle the TD-SCDMA/GSM divide.

China has only just started deploying its 3G network, based on an internally developed technology called TD-SCDMA, the country having decided against paying royalties to the western companies that own competing 3G technologies. When roaming abroad Chinese subscribers need handsets that support GSM too, and if they're going to use video and other 3G services when abroad then they also need support for GSM 3G, such as that provided by the new silicon.

So incompatible are the technologies that most dual-mode handsets can happily maintain two separate calls simultaneously, demonstrating how little silicon is reused in such devices.

The new silicon isn't any more integrated, but it does allow video calls and other 3G applications while on the GSM network, assuming that Chinese punters find video calling more compelling than everyone else.

It seems remarkable that one can count the number of 3G phones without a forward-facing camera - for video calling - on the fingers of one hand, and we've yet to meet anyone who has ever made a mobile video call besides demonstrating the technology.

But the Chinese networks are pushing video calling as a killer application for 3G, just like the western networks did before them, while the government is pleased to see that TD-SCDMA is gaining some traction.

It's not the first time that the Chinese have tried to push their own technology, but Enhanced Versatile Disc demonstrated how difficult it is to remain proprietary in a world market. While TD-SCDMA can be mandated by spectrum licence, it will be interesting to see if the proprietary standard really can challenge GSM. ®

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