Why is it that the three state-owned mobile phone networks in China always have to have different standards?
First it was 3G, which sort of made sense, given that China Mobile needed to be penalised a bit for being so successful and the others needed a bit of a boost.
Now it is electronic payment systems.
China Mobile customers in Shanghai can now pay 150 rmb for a RF-SIM, a sim card that will transform their phones into an electronic wallet capable of holding cash or loyalty points.
The scheme is likely to go nationwide shortly and China Mobile has said it has ordered three million RF-SIM cards from the manufacturers. The sim can be used in any existing handset and connects to special terminals in shops wirelessly. WuMart has said more than 300 branches of its supermarket will take the card.
China Telecom is also using RF-SIM, but China Unicom, ever the dark horse, is said to be going for a different technology, developed by Near Field Communications for its 125 million customers.
Which means, of course, that every store will probably have to have two separate payment terminals on each till, and new phones will eventually be geared to use one system or the other. NFC only works when it is built into the phone, and so far Nokia is the only handset manufacturer which is interested.
All of which, much like building three separate 3G networks, is a huge waste of everyone’s time and money. And what’s the point of having state-owned companies if they cannot agree on a simple thing like a single payment standard so that the banks, the stores, and of course, their customers, aren’t left fretting?