Amid doubts about the network expansion and competitiveness of United Telecom (Unicom), China's second mobile telephone operator, official media yesterday reiterated the expansion of the company's network had been smooth. The China Business Times reported Unicom would extend its network to 28 cities, with a switching capacity of 500,000 channels by October. The network would be extended to an additional 20 cities with a switching capacity of 500,000 channels by the end of the year. The company would also expand its global service for mobile communications to 13 cities this year from four cities last year. The report followed other media reports that Unicom was slow in developing a compatible system with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications' existing network. State-run Unicom was granted the licence two years ago and became the ministry's only rival. Analysts said they doubted if a level playing field for Unicom was possible, with the ministry acting as both regulator and competitor. There had been media reports some clients had requested goods returned or delayed payment of Unicom mobile phone service charges. The China Business Times reported Unicom would accelerate the laying of long-distance optical cables connecting Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The mobile phone operator would also join the competitive paging market by launching paging services in 10 cities in October this year, with the pilot project being launched in Tianjin. Unicom expected its mobile phone network to cover all provinces by the turn of the century with a switching capacity of four million channels.