China's Cell Phone Frenzy the Chinese Cell Phone Explosion Started in Schaumburg, Connecting Two Cultures

By Spak, Kara | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

China's Cell Phone Frenzy the Chinese Cell Phone Explosion Started in Schaumburg, Connecting Two Cultures


Spak, Kara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Kara Spak Daily Herald Staff Writer

TEDA, China - A fierce, freezing wind blows atop the Great Wall at Simatai, a sheer cliff climb of ancient achievement.

Far from the Beijing smog, the unrelenting and terrifying mix of cars and bicycles, the crush of 14 million people, here the dry air yields no buildings and few clouds.

The sight lines are unparalleled, offering the majesty of ancient China and the wall, a stretch of one of humanity's crowning triumphs.

The wind whistles, birds chirp and all else is silent - until a shrill sound, both frightening and familiar, pierces the veil of isolation.

It is the ring of a cell phone.

China's love affair with the cell phone started almost 20 years ago and half a globe away - in Schaumburg.

Motorola Inc. was the first U.S. company to successfully tap into China's emerging economy and market potential and now is China's largest overseas-funded corporation. The cell phone, in its infancy in 1987 when Motorola set up shop, was its calling card.

Motorola's China operation and its employees, like former Palatine resident Lin Gao, are helping both to drive the dramatic turnaround in China's economy and to keep the Schaumburg firm profitable. Thirty percent of Motorola's cell phones come from one plant in eastern China.

What's happened since Motorola opened in Communist China is a revolution of sorts, breaking down barriers between China and Chicago's suburbs, where many of the nearly 52,000 Chinese immigrants now make their living at high-tech firms like Motorola, Lucent Technologies and IBM Corp. In China today, workers also are finding jobs at outposts of Illinois-based businesses like Kraft Foods, Caterpillar Inc. and McDonald's.

This globalization of U.S. business worries some Americans who fear the growing Chinese economy threatens to further shrink U.S. manufacturing jobs. Since 2001, 3 million such U.S. jobs have evaporated. Still, the pipeline between China and Chicago's suburbs now is wide open, moving people, products, customs and an interdependence like never before.

"Clearly, over the last few years, China has just exploded," said William Kooser, an associate dean at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business who teaches a class on building business in China. "The opportunities are great and potential threat (to U.S. jobs) is too."

The ring, ring, ring

In a communist nation where religion still can be stifled, news censored and population strictly controlled, the cell phone's popularity is an unrestrained phenomenon. The ring of the cell phone is everywhere here.

It's in the alleys of Beijing's ancient hutongs, where coal stoves heat homes and neighbors share common toilets. It's in the crammed buses and subway cars of Shanghai. It's in rural villages with only 100 residents, where the lunar calendar continues to mark time as it has for thousands of years.

Elderly Chinese who 50 years ago scraped for food to ward off starvation now text message Chinese characters. Teenagers, desperate to impress, upgrade cell phones every six to nine months.

Here, people skipped directly from land lines to cellular without a stop at cordless. There were 335 million active cell users, but 312 million land lines in 2004, according to the CIA World Factbook.

In 2005, Motorola's China sales were $8.98 billion, or nearly one quarter of its total sales. The China revenue includes sales to Chinese as well as exports of mobile phones, two-way radios, wireless equipment and car electronics.

For corporations like Motorola, China is a kind of nirvana with its huge, inexpensive labor pool and even bigger 1.3 billion potential customer base. The Chinese labor force is estimated at 791 million people, compared to 149 million U.S. workers and the average yearly Chinese salary is $1,290, compared to $40,409 in the United States.

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