Microsoft is gearing up for the release of Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh in the world's biggest mobile phone market next week. Originally codenamed "Tango," the Windows Phone 7 update will launch via China's three major mobile networks by March 21.
HTC beat all other manufacturers to the punch by offering its Triumph smartphone through China Unicom. The HTC Triumph -- known as the HTC Titan in the U.S. market -- has been on pre-order since earlier this week. Meanwhile, Nokia is likewise launching WP 7.5 Refresh-powered smartphones in China by March 28. Although no specific models have been announced, TechCrunch speculates that these will include the Lumia 610, Lumia 719C, 810 and Lumia 800, or China-specific variants thereof. According to IntoMobile, these models have already passed regulatory approval in the country.
HTC Triumph is already on pre-order in China, and will launch by March 21, running Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh.
Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Refresh launch in China is seen as a boon to the company, given the potential coverage and exposure the platform will gain from the biggest mobile market. China has recently surpassed the 1 billion mobile user mark, although smartphone penetration is less than 20%. The Refresh launch in China is no small deal, because the update will be launching on the country's three major networks -- China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. One of the main features of Refresh is improved localization support, which makes it apt to launch the platform update in China.
DigiTimes reports that Tango's introduction into the Chinese market will cover all of the three networks' 3G standards, including WCDMA, CDMA and TD-SCDMA.
This might be seen as a challenge for Apple. The iPhone 4S has already launched through #2 and #3 carriers China Telecom and China Unicom, respectively. Hoewever, even with the popularity of the iPhone 4S in the Chinese market, the Cupertino, Calif., company has yet to release an iPhone variant compatible with the biggest mobile network in town -- China Mobile. China Mobile boasts of 650 million subscribers, although its 3G network does not currently support the iPhone. About 15 million are actually iPhone users, but have to deal with slower 2G connections, because the iPhone cannot run on China Mobile's TD-SCDMA network.
Room for Growth
Even with 1 billion mobile subscribers in the mainland, mobile broadband penetration is low, at only only 14%, compared with Japan's 90% and South Korea's 75%. While this is a bit above the worldwide 3G coverage of 12%, mobile data speeds in China are actually the second slowest in the world, next only to India, averaging 50 Kbps. 3G use in the country is seen to increase to 300 million (about 30%) by end-2012, and average mobile broadband speed is forecast to be 1.4 Mbps by 2015.
Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh is targeted at the low-end to midrange market, which means the platform can attract a potentially bigger user base than those who can afford premium handsets like the iPhone 4S. Microsoft will be doing some adjustments in this market, though, which includes changing the built-in social networking tools to conform with the standards of the so-called Great Firewall of China. Refresh will run Tencent Weibo and Tencent QQ services in lieu of Twitter, Facebook and Xbox LIVE.
However, with carriers offering the iPhone 4S for free with two- and three-year contracts under China Telecom, providers will have to price WP 7.5 Refresh handsets more attractively to ensure demand.