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China Mobile Preps LTE Network

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

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

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Michelle Donegan
Michelle Donegan,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:26:41 PM
re: China Mobile Preps LTE Network
Can China Mobile leapfrog TD-SCDMA -- or rather, deploy as little as possible of the 3G technology -- so it can get on with LTE?
And given the operator's push for LTE, will TD-SCDMA equipment orders be less than vendors have been anticipating?
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2012 | 3:26:40 PM
re: China Mobile Preps LTE Network
It's not the first time that one technology is expected to leapfrog another one during the "Peak of Inflated Expectations" in the Hype Cycle. For instance, I do remember that UMTS was supposed to make EDGE irrelevant. There is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding LTE right now, but new technologies, no matter how clever they seem to be, require some time to mature before they become commercial successes.
El Rupester
El Rupester,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:26:37 PM
re: China Mobile Preps LTE Network

HSPA+ analagous to EDGE - a sensible way to extend life and improve RoA. I think most carriers will be prudent and sweat their assets longer: jumping to LTE will seem too risky, too expensive, too painful for most.

That said, China Mobile might sensible prefer to be part of a bigger LTE ecosystem (albeit the TD variant) than marooned with TDSCDMA...
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2012 | 3:26:32 PM
re: China Mobile Preps LTE Network
I'm not sure if HSPA+ is really akin to EDGE. EDGE is a relatively easy upgrade to GPRS, while HSPA+ with MIMO seems to require an investment which might be pretty close to LTE. I think that's more or less what T-Mobile is saying.

There are still a lot of stages (finalizing the specs, testing, fixing the specs, getting clunky power-hungry handsets out there, etc.) to go through before we can see a commercial LTE network, hopefully no longer called Long-Term Evolution by that time.

That said, I think that China's bet on TD-SCDMA, with hindsight, probably cost them a lot. No other country as followed them, as far as I know. The local companies are getting a larger share of the market, but wouldn't they get a larger share if the the networks were HSPA anyway? Looks like they keep beating a dead horse.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:26:32 PM
re: China Mobile Preps LTE Network
@ziggy -- good point. Did you dust off your copy of the 3G script?

@el rupester -- is there a risk that HSPA+ is more analogous to Evolved EDGE and a step too far?
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