China Telecom now world's biggest CDMA carrier

Caroline Gabriel/Rethink Wireless
01 Apr 2011

China Telecom has overtaken Verizon Wireless to become the world's largest CDMA operator.

The operator's mobile subscriber base surpassed 100 million in 2010, according to China Daily, compared to Verizon's 94.1 million.

Verizon has held the top spot in CDMA almost throughout the technology's history, but is now itself shifting towards the new LTE platform. The same is true of other CDMA majors like KDDI of Japan and Bell Canada, and by mid-decade most expansion of CDMA networks is expected to be in emerging markets, as well as in China.

China Telecom will have its own LTE roll-out by then, but it will be in the early phases and the operator has said it plans to enhance its 3G platform for many years to come, providing a valuable potential client for the vendors seeking to prolong the life of their CDMA sales - Alcatel-Lucent and ZTE above all.

Telecom is one of only four cellcos which have stated the intention of deploying CDMA EV-DO Rev B, which some speculate will not hit commercial reality because of the accelerated rise of LTE.

Its top spot in this equipment segment will give it considerable influence over the development and pricing of networks, an advantage Verizon has leveraged enthusiastically over the years.

Although the smallest of China's three national cellcos, Telecom has a higher percentage of 3G users than its rivals, and these have now reached 15 million, as of the end of February. But it has lower ARPU than that of market leader China Mobile, which reported 2010 ARPU of 73 yuan ($11) compared to China Unicom's 43.7 yuan and Telecom's 54.2 yuan.

W-CDMA rival China Unicom is also enhancing its network rapidly, rolling out 21Mbps HSPA+ in 56 cities less than two years after building first wave 3G. The carrier is also accelerating its fiber optic investment program to provide backhaul as well as fixed access.

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