China Unicom halts 3G expansion to focus on 4G

23 Sep 2015

China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile carrier by subscribers, is stepping up its LTE network rollout activity to catch up with bigger rival China Mobile in the 4G race.

Speaking at a company event on Tuesday, China Unicom president and executive director Lu Yiming said the company has halted large-scale capacity expansion of its 3G network this year so it could increase the dedicated resources for its 4G business.

Lu said Unicom is expanding its 4G network buildout with plans to have 500,000 4G base stations put into operations this year, bringing the total number of 3G and 4G base stations to 1.2 million by year-end, which will cover 95% of the country’s population.

The 4G network currently covers major urban cities, counties, and towns and will eventually be expanded into rural China. In 2016 Unicom’s 4G network will cover up to over 90% of the nation’s population, Lu noted.

The company will also increase the downlink speed of its LTE network to up to 300Mbps by year-end and to 330Mbps in 2016 with the use of tri-band carrier aggregation (CA) technology.

Unicom is also ramping up deployment of VoLTE and RCS in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, which are now ready for commercial trials involving the delivery of HD voice and video conference services to its 4G customers.

According to China Unicom, the company will conduct a full-scale deployment of VoLTE on its 4G network in 2016.

Unicom, which was granted a FDD/LTE license early this year, had said earlier that it had over 30 million subscribers using 4G terminals by the end of June, accounting for over 12% of the company’s total subscriber base.

In August, Unicom had added 4.8 million 3G/4G subscribers, taking its 3G/4G subscriber base to over 167.6 million. Yet the company lost 556,000 customers to rivals during the month, as its total user base dropped to 287.85 million from 288.4 million a month earlier.

By comparison, smaller rival China Telecom snared 1.8 million 3G/4G users, bringing its 3G/4G user base to nearly 135 million by the end of August, or 70% of its 193 million total mobile connections.

China Mobile meanwhile maintained its lead in the 4G race by adding nearly 25 million TD-LTE customers in August, taking its 4G subscriber base to 229.3 million.

This represented 28% of the mobile giant’s 820 million subscribers.

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