China Mobile ambitious to lead 4G tech

Updated: 2011-07-11 09:30


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BEIJING - China Mobile, the country's largest mobile telecom operator, is taking ambitious steps to promote the "fourth-generation," or 4G mobile technologies, according to the general manager of its research institute.

"You have to be a leader, not a follower...timing is everything," said Huang Xiaoqing, general manager of China Mobile's Research Institute, in an interview with Xinhua.

With more than 600 million subscribers, the mobile giant, which is both listed in Hong Kong and New York, is pushing for China's home-grown 4G standard, known as TD-LTE, or "Time Division-Long Term Evolution," to be a globally accepted standard.

The technology is expected to provide faster broadband wireless services to meet the explosive future demand in data communication that the current 3G network is unable to deliver, Huang said.

"Demand for mobile communications, especially for mobile internet, is rapidly growing, totally beyond our expectation and forecast," he said.

The TD-LTE network is believed to be "ten times lower in price and ten times better in performance" than the current 3G service, he added.

The upgraded version of TD-LTE, or TD-LTE-Advanced, is now among the three international 4G standards accepted by the UN's International Telecommunication Union(ITU). The other two are LTE FDD and WiMAX, which are dominated by Europe and the United States, respectively.

Currently the company has arranged large-scale TD-LTE trials in six Chinese cities and set up a demonstration network in Beijing. It has also developed a TD-LTE mobile network in Taiwan with the local Far EasTone Telecommunications for testing purposes.

According to Huang, telecommunication operators worldwide are seeking a single and unified global standard and tend to agree to the LTE standard.

China Mobile joined with seven other operators to form Global TD-LTE Initiative(GTI) at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, he said.

The GTI now has 22 members, including telecommunication giants like the UK's Vodafone, Japan's Softbank, and Axiata from eastern Europe. Currently, trial networks of TD-LTE have been established in 29 countries.

Goldman Sachs is also optimistic about TD-LTE's future. In a report released late June, the investment bank said TD-LTE is becoming the global solution for unpaired spectrum due to its 3G inter-operability, large data capacity, and leverage of the LTE FDD system.

The report expects China Mobile, Bharti (India), and Softbank to launch TD-LTE services in late 2012 or 2013, which would cover nearly 2.7 billion people, or 39 percent of the world's total population, in the three countries.

China is leading the global promotion of the TD-LTE standard, therefore, tests on the network are fully open, said Cao Shumin, vice director of the Telecommunication Research Institution under with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology(MIIT).

The test site at the MIIT institution has gathered not only domestic cell phone manufacturers but also multinational tycoons like Motorola, Ericsson, and Nokia Siemens Networks.

The LTE FDD network, which is promoted by European operators, is seen as a strong competitor to TD-LTE. But as the two technologies are based on the same LTE system, they are able to share R&D results and subscribers at a global level, Cao said.

The company is also pinning hope on the 4G technology to gain back its high-end subscribers lost to China Unicom and China Telecom in the 3G business.

China Mobile, whose 3G network technology isn't supported by the iPhone, has announced it will work with Apple on a TD-LTE-type iPhone.

Currently, China Mobile's iPhone users can only run their device on the 2G mobile network.

But the Chinese government has not given a clear timetable for the commercial launch of TD-LTE.

Miao Wei, minister of the MIIT, said in April that China plans to commercially promote the TD-LTE technology nationwide within three to five years.

The government has only issued the 3G licenses in 2009, with China Mobile getting the self-developed TD-SCDMA standard.

"The regulator is afraid that China Mobile is becoming stronger, gaining more market share and monopolizing the market," Huang said.

China Mobile had 611 million subscribers by the end of May, of which 32 million were 3G users. China Unicom had 22.1 million 3G users in May, while China Telecom came in third with 19.7 million.