China Mobile Preps LTE Network
China Mobile Communications Corp. says it is already planning a Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network and claims it is the "most-ready operator" for the so-called 4G mobile broadband technology.
The operator is preparing the new LTE network now, even before its 3G network, based on the home-grown Chinese standard TD-SCDMA, has been commercially launched. (See China Mobile Flexes LTE Muscle, China Mobile to Unleash 3G Next Year.)
China Mobile says it is building out the 3G TD-SCDMA network so that the cell sites and many other elements can be reused for the LTE network. (See Emerging Markets Offer Capex Hope.)
"In our new TD-SCDMA network, we put all the measurement and configuration in place to have a simple migration to LTE," says Bill Huang, general manager at China Mobile Research Institute. "More than 60 percent of the investment will be able to migrate to LTE in the future. That makes us the most ready operator for LTE."
China Mobile's aggressive timescale for LTE begs a burning question: To what extent will the operator actually deploy 3G TD-SCDMA given that LTE follows hot on its heels? The world's largest operator by subscribers has one of the most aggressive deployment plans for LTE, with a commercial launch targeted for 2010. It joins the ranks of NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), T-Mobile International AG , and Verizon Wireless in the push for 4G.
China Mobile's Huang says a proof-of-concept trial will start by the end of this year, while lab and field trials are scheduled for early next year. The operator hopes to enter the "pre-commercial stage" by the end of 2009, and then launch a large-scale pre-commercial trial, according to Huang.
China Mobile refers to its TD-SCDMA network as a "large-scale trial" that comprises 15,000 base stations.
For 4G, China Mobile will use TD-LTE -- a time division duplex (TDD) version of LTE -- that will be compatible with TD-SCDMA and the rest of the world's LTE, which is based on frequency division duplex (FDD). The TD-LTE specifications are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year along with the primary LTE/system architecture evolution (LTE/SAE) specifications at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) . (See LTE Focus Puts Pressure on Femtocells and LTE Specs on Track.)
"TDD/FDD integration brings the opportunity for a unified radio infrastructure," says Huang. "Global roaming will be effectively enabled with a single access platform."
China Mobile is part of a joint trial initiative with Verizon Wireless and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), but Huang was unable to provide an update. (See China Mobile Joins LTE Threesome, Verizon, Vodafone Head for LTE, and Verizon Goes LTE.)
"Before coming here, I asked Vodafone if I could provide more information [about the trial] and they told me I should just say, we're doing it," he says.
Huang also noted the importance of supporting voice over LTE and said that one technology option for that could be Kineto Wireless Inc. 's unlicensed mobile access (UMA).
"We could carry voice over UMA," he says. "We will have an LTE network that supports voice -- it doesn't matter what protocol we'll use. We'll use voice as the application."
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung