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3G/HSPA

China Telecom Revs Up Rev. B

China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) says it's on track to become the world's largest CDMA operator, and is bullish about the potential of 3G upgrade technology CDMA EV-DO Rev. B.

The carrier outlined its growth projections and technology plans, including details of its CDMA EV-DO Rev. B trials, at Light Reading's 2010 Mobile Broadband China event in Shanghai last week.

It matters what China Telecom says about the CDMA 3G upgrade technology because the operator now has significant weight in the CDMA community. The Chinese operator, which had 71.5 million CDMA customers at the end of May, is set to "grow to 100 million subscribers and become the world's largest CDMA operator within a year," according to Dr. Qi Bi, CTO of China Telecom's Beijing Research Institute, who gave the keynote presentation at the Light Reading event.

At that growth rate, China Telecom would knock Verizon Wireless from the top CDMA operator spot. The U.S. operator reported 87.8 million retail CDMA customers at the end of March this year.

As for China Telecom's plans for upgrading the 3G network to EV-DO Rev. B, Bi's comments were positive about the operator's recent trials, which it is running in three Chinese cities with equipment from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. . But Bi stopped short of revealing when it would roll out the 3G upgrade. (See China Telecom Does EV-DO Rev B, China Telecom Trials AlcaLu, and AlcaLu's Rev B Hits Expo 2010.)

"The early indications are that Rev. B is mature, and most network performance measurements are in line with our expectations," said Bi. "But we are still evaluating the data and considering what to do next."

Even though Bi did not specify when it would upgrade to EV-DO Rev. B, Heavy Reading senior analyst Patrick Donegan believes China Telecom will support the technology.

"My interpretation of Dr. Bi’s comments is that China Telecom is pretty much committed to rolling out Rev. B," says Donegan, who also presented at the event. "It appears to be largely set on that path, although it's still withholding committing itself formally for a while longer."

The sheer size and fast customer growth rate of China Telecom means its commitment to EV-DO Rev. B would mark something of a revival for the 3G upgrade technology, which has been sidelined by many CDMA operators in favor of Long Term Evolution (LTE) for their next mobile broadband network upgrades. (See MetroPCS Chooses LTE for 4G Wireless Network, Verizon Goes LTE, and KDDI Picks Challengers for LTE Deployment.)

China Telecom will also follow the CDMA-to-LTE migration path, but an EV-DO Rev. B upgrade could complement that next-generation mobile broadband plan. (See China Telecom Guru Talks Hot Tech and Sprint RFP May Include LTE .)

"A lot of people, myself included, assumed that Rev. B would never be commercialized on a large scale," says Donegan. "But if China Telecom commits, then clearly that would significantly change the outlook for Rev. B."

In terms of device availability for EV-DO Rev. B, China Telecom's Bi said the operator has seen "significant interest" from other CDMA operators in growing the Rev. B ecosystem.

For now, there are just two commercial CDMA EV-DO Rev. B networks worldwide, according to the CDMA Development Group (CDG) . One of these is PT Smart Telecom in Indonesia, which uses equipment from ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) for its Rev. B network in Bali. (See ZTE & Smart Launch EV-DO Rev B, Wana Trials EV-DO Rev. B, and AlcaLu Upgrades Russian EV-DO Net.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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