China enters the 4G era

Nicole McCormick/Ovum
10 Dec 2013

The Chinese government has awarded TD-LTE licenses to all three MNOs: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.

China Mobile is reportedly due to launch commercial TD-LTE services on December 18, 2013. It has been allocated 130 MHz of TDD spectrum, considerably more than its rivals (40 MHz each). China Mobile was also allocated a fixed line license.

The two new licenses mean increased competition for Unicom and China Telecom, particularly for Unicom as a main rival to China Mobile. Moreover, China Mobile’s new fixed line license will enable it to make a more concerted push into fixed broadband services, and launch bundled services in competition with fixed line behemoth China Telecom.

We don’t expect Unicom or China Telecom to roll out extensive TD-LTE networks, but they will have to be seen to satisfy the “national interest” before they receive their FD-LTE licenses, possibly as early as 2014.

China Mobile has the most to gain in mobile

China Mobile was allocated 130MHz of TDD spectrum in three bands: 1880/1900-MHz, 2320/2370-MHz, and 2575/2635-MHz. Unicom has been awarded the 2300/2320-MHz and 2555/2575-MHz frequencies, while China Telecom has frequencies at 2370/2390-MHz and 2635/2655-MHz for TD-LTE. The 2300-MHz and 2390/MHz bands will be used for indoor TD-LTE coverage only, leaving the 2575/2655-MHz bands for outdoor LTE coverage.

China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA network suffers from poor quality and speed, and low utilization. The majority of China Mobile data customers either use the GSM EDGE network or Wi-Fi, rather than the TD-SCDMA network. The TD-SCDMA network doesn’t even carry voice services. All voice services are transported over the GSM EDGE network, and that is why China Mobile is lobbying for GSM LTE smartphones. To start with, it intends to use circuit switch fall back so voice services can remain on the GSM network, with data on the TD-LTE network.

TD-LTE will provide China Mobile with the full-scale mobile data network it never had. Officially, the TD-LTE network is due to launch under the new brand of “He” on December 18, 2013 according to the Xinhua news agency. In reality though, commercial trials of TD-LTE services are up and running in several provinces. Beijing Mobile, for example, has been charging for its “trial” service since November 2013.

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