China, the world's fastest-growing mobile phone market, is being transformed into a breeding ground for advanced wireless software programs, according to industry experts. This development is fuelled by a burgeoning domestic market and the entry of various Hong Kong-based firms doing research and marketing in the mainland. A new survey estimates that seven in 10 Chinese wireless software developers will have their applications deployed within the next year. These commercial applications will support both the latest Palm and Windows operating systems for hand-held computing devices, and wireless networking technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Ultra Wide Band. California-based research firm Evans Data, which conducts a bi-annual survey of more than 600 known wireless program developers in the mainland, found that about 70 per cent are either already deploying their applications or will do so by the third quarter of next year. The survey also found that 43 per cent of these commercial wireless applications could each support a rollout to more than 10,000 end users, while 53 per cent are for connections of just over 1,000 users each. 'It shouldn't be surprising that so many developers are deploying wireless applications so quickly to so many users,' said Esther Schindler, Chinese wireless analyst at Evans Data. 'In August, the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry announced that there are more than 250 million mobile phones in China. It's an astonishingly large market.' The Beijing-based research firm BDA China estimates the mainland's mobile phone market will reach 370 million users by 2005. Other analysts have estimated that figure to be about 500 million by 2005. With more advanced mobile devices and networks in the mainland, demand has increased for a slew of wireless data applications - from text greetings and ringtones to chat forums and screensavers - used on handsets and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The mainland's steady adoption of Wi-Fi systems has also ignited demand for secure, reliable programs for businesses and professionals using internet-ready PDAs and notebook computers. The Evans Data survey found Chinese developers supporting video (50 per cent), colour (49 per cent), wireless networking (48 per cent), transactional security (46 per cent) and touch-screen features (42 per cent). According to the Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association, a non-profit group promoting wireless applications locally and in the mainland, Hong Kong has a role to play in fostering those software developments. The association's executive director, Michael Kan, said a number of Hong Kong-based companies were already doing business in the mainland. 'Hong Kong is serving as a vehicle for Chinese developers to market their applications worldwide,' he said. Evans Data found most mainland software developers working in small shops. Only 16 per cent are employed by companies with more than 1,000 employees. Nearly 98 per cent have less than 10 years' experience in programming, with the average at less than four years. 'China has historically lagged behind other major software-<243>producing regions like India in software quality,' said Mark Chin-shong, president of Bamboo Networks, one of a growing number of Hong Kong-based software firms involved in development projects in the mainland. 'Yet there is a tremendously talented, large and cost-effective resource pool here.'