China Mobile raises 4G sub target to 70m this year

21 Nov 2014

China Mobile has raised its 4G subscriber target for 2014 to 70 million, from the 50 million the company set earlier this year. The mobile giant is planning to deploy LTE-Advanced to increase network capacity in order to handle the anticipated increase of network traffic brought by its growing 4G customer base.

Speaking at the Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Shanghai this week, China Mobile executive vice president Li Zhengmao said the mobile giant had already met the initial 4G subscribers target for the year by October, two months ahead of schedule, and expects to gain an additional 20 million TD-LTE customers over rest of the year.

“We’re very confident that we can have over 70 million 4G subscribers by year-end,” Li said. “It took us three years to get 50 million 3G users and nearly 10 years to pass 50 million 2G subscribers. But now we achieved this [50 million TD-LTE customers] in one year.”

China Mobile, which is now providing 4G service using TD-LTE technology, has seen a robust growth in 4G demand since its launch last December. The growth, Li noted, is largely due to the abundant supply of low-end, multi-mode TD-LTE smartphones priced under $1000.

4G ARPU is 1.5 times the company’s average and data usage is 4.2 times the average, while 32.3% of the network traffic is currently generated from 4G.

Li anticipated that the company’s 4G subscriber base will more than double to 150 million by the end of next year and 300 million by the end of 2016.

As such, China Mobile will expand its 4G network coverage and increase network speed and capacity.

China Mobile currently has 570,000 TD-LTE base stations across China and will increase the number to 700,000 by year-end and one million next year. The operator will also deploy LTE-Advanced and carrier aggregation to raise data rates of its 4G network from 100Mbps to 200Mbps to 600Mbps and eventually to 1Gbps, Li said.

The company will also launch commercial VoLTE service in first half of 2015 and introduce NFV to its mobile network.

Like its counterparts China Unicom and China Telecom, which are providing 4G services based on hybrid FDD/TDD LTE networks, China Mobile is also looking at building a converged FDD/TDD network. Li said China Mobile is considering to refarm 2G spectrum on the 900-MHz and 1800-MHz frequency bands for FDD LTE but didn’t provide any timeline.

But he said the industry needs to work together on the convergence of FDD and TDD technologies, especially on unifying air interfaces.

“If there are too many standards for air interfaces, mobile operators will face the same type of problems they had with 3G,” Li said. “We need to eliminate the differences between FDD and TDD, so in the 5G era, people would not even talk about the two [different standards] as they will be unified.”

At the same time, he also urged network equipment vendors to help bring down the network costs.

He said cost per bit on China Mobile’s 4G network is a fourth of 3G, while cost per bit for 3G is one third of that of 2G. But he emphasized that “this [cost reduction rate] is not enough”.

Citing a research by the IMT2020, the China-back 5G research group, Li said network traffic in China is forecast to increase 1,000 times between 2010 and 2020, compared to a global average of 240 times. In major cities, such as Shanghai, network traffic is expected to increase 600 times while in hotspot areas it will be over 1,000 times.

“If the network traffic is expected to increase 1000 fold, based on the current decline rate of cost per bit, mobile operators will find it very difficult to make profit,” Li said. “As such, we are calling our vendor partners that if the network traffic is forecast to increase 1000 times, the cost per bit will go down by 1,000 times as well,” he said.

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