China Unicom, the No 2 telecommunications network in China, is to proceed with Qualcomm's mobile-phone technology, a key victory for the United States company, as the market begins to heat up. China Unicom Group will use the narrow-band CDMA (code division multiple access) technology once it takes over trial networks owned by army-backed Great Wall Communications, Wang Jianzhou, executive vice-president of Unicom, said. 'After the assets are transferred, we will improve Great Wall's operations,' Mr Wang said. State-run China Unicom had said it would wait for the as yet unready third generation - or wide-band technology. That decision had appeared to shut out Qualcomm, and the companies that licence its technology, from China revenues for the near term. However, the apparent about-face puts Qualcomm and the CDMA camp back in the race for a share of China's mobile-phone market. China Unicom has been at the heart of several high-stakes battles that have centred on China's bid to join the World Trade Organisation and a drive by the Communist Party to force the military to drop its business activities. As a bargaining chip in talks with the US on WTO, China offered to adopt CDMA technology for mobile phones to supplement the more widely used global system for mobile communications (GSM). However, after an agreement was reached, China Unicom appeared to backtrack on CDMA, sending California-based Qualcomm's stock price tumbling. Beijing has also said that Great Wall's mobile-phone networks will have to be transferred to China Unicom as part of efforts to get the People's Liberation Army back on national defence and out of its business interests. Asked when the transfer would be made, Mr Wang said: 'There is no timetable. The assets are currently being evaluated . . . we don't know the extent of the assets or the debts now.' China Unicom, the Hong Kong and New York listed arm of the state-run company, would have an option to buy the assets. 'The listed company has the option to buy the assets if it feels the market is there,' said Mr Wang, who is also president of the listed company. Great Wall has trial CDMA operations in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Guangzhou and in Hebei province. The operations are small, and combined they account for only a tiny fraction of the 65 million mobile-phone users in China. China Unicom had more than 15 million subscribers as of the end of last month, most of them on its GSM network. 'The coverage of Great Wall's networks is very small,' Mr Wang said. 'But China Unicom gets more spectrum with the Great Wall assets. This is very valuable.' During a roadshow for the public offering of China Unicom that raised about US$5.65 billion, Unicom officials said they would wait for the next generation of CDMA technology. Asked about the change of heart, Mr Wang linked it to the transfer plan. 'At the time there was no decision to give us the network. The plan to transfer Great Wall's networks changed our thinking.' Analysts said equipment manufacturers that have invested in technology were also eager to see sales start sooner rather than later. The company official also played down the risk of operating two systems. 'CDMA is under the parent company. If there is a risk, it is under the parent company.'