China Mobile Accelerates 4G

SHANGHAI -- Mobile Asia Expo 2012 -- China Mobile chief Xi Guohua says he expects to expand the scale of the operator's Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) trials, which so far have included 6,000 base stations in five cities -- Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

For phase two, announced in March, the carrier said it would build out another 20,000 base stations in nine cities in 2012 and then expand further to 200,000 base stations by the end of 2013.

But Xi announced here in Shanghai that it was "very likely" the trials would expand further this year.

He added that the technology was working well, but the bottleneck was with the devices. The expansion of the urban trials "depends on how fast the total industry develops," he said.

"As long as we have the devices we can build out the base stations in a very short period of time, and we can also upgrade [the existing TD-SCDMA] network in a very short period of time."

China Mobile has been operating the world's only network using TD-SCDMA -- a home-grown 3G standard that failed to gain traction outside its "home" market -- since 2009 and is now looking to upgrade that network to a standard that has global support.

There's no doubt that there's plenty of support elsewhere for the LTE TDD standard. Japanese operator SoftBank Mobile Corp. launched the first commercial LTE TDD network in November 2012, while India's Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) has launched services in several markets during the past few months. Currently there are commercial LTE TDD networks up and running in six countries while trials are ongoing in many more, including the U.S., Russia, Malaysia and Australia. (See India at Vanguard of LTE TDD Rollout, TDD Camp Sets Out Global Ambitions and Softbank Preps Pseudo-LTE TDD Service.)

Ric Clark, an Asia/Pacific vice president at Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), said the "conventional wisdom" was that China Mobile would run trials from last year until 2013, though he noted that "a trial at 200,000 base stations stretches the definition of what a trial is." Clark noted that the operator was still waiting to be formally issued with both the spectrum and its operating license.

In China's opaque regulatory system, it is not unusual for operators to start large-scale commercial operations under the guise of a "trial."

The bulk of China Mobile's phase two trials are in the 2.6GHz band, one of the prime International Telecommunication Union (ITU) spectrum bands for the technology.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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