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Huawei Has Its Eyes on the 4G Prize

SHANGHAI -- Mobile Asia Expo -- The bids aren't even in yet, but Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is already certain it will win the largest share of the telecom industry's largest prize this year -- China Mobile Ltd.'s LTE TDD tender.

"Nobody doubts that Huawei will have the biggest share," the vendor's TDD networks vice-president Qiu Heng told a press lunch here in Shanghai, a touch self-confidently perhaps. "It is just a question of how big."

Qiu noted that the vendor was the biggest supplier to China Mobile's 15-city LTE TDD trial network: The operator and its vendor partners have built 20,000 LTE TDD base stations in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai to test the technology during the past year.

Already "pre-commercial" services are available in Shenzhen and Hangzhou, where prices are as low as 40 yuan renminbi (US$6.50) per month for 4GB of data.

Following a much-publicized delay, China Mobile last week finally issued its first major 4G commercial network tender and it was a whopper, calling for bids to supply 207,000 base stations in 100 cities. (See China Mobile Delays Key 4G Tender.)

Qiu, who described the tender as "absolutely" the biggest telecom contract in the world this year, said the rollout would be comparable in scale to SoftBank Mobile Corp.'s existing LTE TDD deployment. It will have fewer base stations than its Japanese counterpart, but more sectors -- on average, three per cell.

Bids are due in by July 15. Apart from the big five global vendors -- Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson AB, Nokia Siemens Networks and ZTE Corp. as well as Huawei -- local firms Datang Mobile, Potevio (formerly Putian) and New Postcom are also likely to respond to the tender. However, China Mobile has said it will not accept bids from suppliers offering key technologies that have been developed by third-party OEM partners.

The financial value of the tender is unclear, but China Mobile has set aside about RMB 40 billion ($6.5 billion) of its 2013 budget for LTE TDD rollouts. (See China Mobile's Capex Blowout.)

As the tender begins, a guessing game is underway across the industry as to when the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) will finally issue 4G licenses. Most likely they will be issued late this year or early 2014.

Separately here at Mobile Asia Expo, China Mobile CEO Li Yue has said the company will launch voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) services commercially in 2014, saying he expected it would "double" voice quality and provide a much improved user experience.

He said China Mobile hoped VoLTE would become the mainstream LTE voice solution and help "solve FDD and TDD voice integration."

The operator has been testing the technology in Guangzhou with ZTE. A large-scale field trial will take place in the first half of 2014, with the aim of launching commercially late in the year, Li said. (See ZTE, Marvell Break New VoLTE Ground.)

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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