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China Mobile Joins LTE Threesome

Michelle Donegan
GSMA News Analysis
Michelle Donegan
2/13/2008
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China Mobile Communications Corp. announced today that it will join Verizon Wireless and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) in a three-way operator trial of the 4G mobile broadband standard, long-term evolution (LTE). (See China Mobile Trials LTE.)

This endorsement from the world's largest mobile operator by subscriber numbers greatly tips the 4G standards scales in LTE's favor. Along with Verizon and Vodafone, the operator joins the ranks of NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), which has an aggressive LTE deployment plan. (See MWC Preview: LTE in the Limelight , DoCoMo Picks Ericsson LTE, Vodafone Plans LTE Powwow, Verizon Goes LTE, and Verizon, Vodafone Head for LTE.)

The trials will focus on both the frequency-division duplex (FDD) and time-division duplex (TDD) varieties of the LTE standard. The TDD version of LTE is China Mobile's technology choice because it is an evolution of the Chinese homegrown 3G standard, TD-SCDMA.

Interestingly, the group trials are focused on ensuring the interoperability of different LTE systems. While the trials will evaluate the performance of LTE with different spectrum types, they will also "provide an opportunity to adopt a harmonized access platform with global scale," according to the press release.

It's as if operators are looking to 4G LTE as the common bond that will unite mobile networks globally.

"Verizon looks upon LTE as a singular opportunity to align wireless carriers on a 4G technology which will support the desires of customers to have a common experience, with any device of their choosing, anywhere in the world," said Richard Lynch, Verizon's CTO, in a statement, adding that he looks forward to "planning compatible networks" with China Mobile and Vodafone.

China Mobile is already a member of the LTE/SAE (systems architecture evolution) Trial Initiative -- the group of 18 operators, infrastructure vendors, and handset makers that is working on speeding LTE development. (See LTE Hits 300 Mbit/s, LSTI Touts LTE Speeds, and LTE Specs on Track.)

China Mobile's backing of LTE also raises the broader prospect that some Chinese operators may bypass 3G standard WCDMA and go straight for the next-generation LTE. (See Vodafone Pumps Up HSPA and PicoChip Unveils LTE Reference Design.)

"There is a significant possibility that China will skip WCDMA altogether and go straight to LTE," says Heavy Reading senior analyst Patrick Donegan. "The Chinese government is very unhappy with the IPR regime around WCDMA."

Given the strong government support of China's homegrown TD-SCDMA 3G standard, the looming telecom market restructuring, and the fact that 3G licenses have yet to be awarded in the country, it's possible that the timelines for LTE commercial availability could fit with Chinese operators' next-generation mobile broadband network rollout plans. (See LTE Specs on Track, Major Carrier Shakeup Expected in China, and PicoChip Unveils Chinese Femtocell.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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