As the largest cellco on earth, the carrier could do a similar favor for dual-mode FD/TD networks in future, since its sheer purchasing power encourages device and infrastructure makers to support its preferred standards. It has had considerable success in bringing device chipmakers on-board to develop TDD and dual-mode silicon since, together with Vodafone, it used the Mobile World Congress platform in 2009 to urge the industry to include dual-mode capabilities as default in all their SoCs.
That would support roaming as well as helping carriers with both paired and unpaired spectrum, and would help China Mobile avoid the problems that have beset its 3G roll-out in TD-SCDMA. As the only operator using that platform, Mobile has struggled to obtain the same choice of attractive devices, and volume pricing, that its rivals can access, especially China Unicom with its mainstream W-CDMA network. Mobile still lacks a TD-SCDMA iPhone, though this is likely to be as much down to disagreements with Apple over commercial terms as the flavor of 3G.
Mobile's hope is that, if vendors start to include dual-mode silicon in most products, the same gadgets will be able to be activated on any kind of LTE network, removing the TDD disadvantage. But this would also make it easier for carriers to implement TDD and FDD in parallel, an option which was seen as niche until only recently. Now it is of high interest to many cellcos, especially for second wave deployments when they look to add TDD spectrum as their FDD networks start to hit the capacity ceiling.
China Mobile itself already has a dual-mode deployment in its Hong Kong subsidiary and recently demonstrated seamless hand-off. Hutchison 3 is rolling out both TDD and FDD networks in Sweden and looking to integrate them fully, while Sprint and Clearwire, if they sort out their complex relationships, are also likely to want to bring their respective 4G roll-outs more tightly together.
However, Li's hints only add to the murkiness of the Chinese 4G outlook. Currently, Mobile has a massive “trial” TD-LTE network but no official operating licence, while Unicom and China Telecom have run limited trials, overlaying LTE on their FDD 3G networks. Until mid-2012 it seemed that the telecoms ministry, the MIIT, would not grant new 4G spectrum until around 2015.