Entries in 4G (3)
In the wake of the government decision to accelerate 4G licensing, Chinese operators have begun positioning themselves for a network rollout battle worth as much as 300 billion yuan ($49bn).
China Telecom is to launch its first 4G trial next month, while both Telecom and rival Unicom are reported to be planning to start network construction by year-end.
China’s State Council declared ten days ago that it aimed to issue 4G licences by the end of the year.
China Telecom will offer its first 4G service on its trial LTE network during the Asian Youth Games in Nanjing next month. It is official communications sponsor of the event and will deploy at major games venues, tourist spots and hundreds of official games vehicles.
Chairman Wang Xiaochu last month confirmed that the operator, which runs cdma2000 and EV-DO networks, would roll out nationwide with both FDD and TD-LTE flavours of 4G. FDD-LTE will provide broad coverage around the country, while TD-LTE will be used to provide extra capacity in densely-populated urban areas.
Previously both China Telecom and China Unicom had been bearish on 4G, most likely because of the desire to maximise the life of their 3G investments.
By comparison China Mobile has firmly embraced it and in the past 18 months has built trial networks in 13 cities. Last month it called tenders for a national 100-city rollout.
Now both Telecom and Unicom have now stepped up their network investment and rollout plans to bridge the gap, the Economic Information newspaper has reported.
China Telecom will expand its forthcoming LTE trial from four to 31 provinces, and is preparing to call tenders.
China Unicom, which is expected to rollout exclusively with FDD-LTE, is still at the trial planning stage. However, its initial deployment is expected to be around 31,000 base stations.
China Mobile’s national tender calls for the deployment of 207,000 base stations, but this year is expected to invest 80 billion yuan ($13bn) in 180,000 cell stations.
Analysts say the allocation of licences will likely spark an intense competition for 4G coverage. Each of the three operators will build out approximately 200,000 base stations over the next three years, the Economic Information said, citing “multiple industry sources.”
At an average cost of 500,000 yuan per base station, the direct investment in construction could be as much as 300 billion yuan.
Speculation over China 4G licensing continues to run hot. The most likely scenario is that China Mobile will be issued with its licence first, and not until toward the end of the year (zh) when its network is commercial-ready.
But, according to one widely-reposted report Tuesday (zh), all three operators are to be awarded TD-LTE licences. If they wish to build out FDD-LTE networks, they will have to apply for a separate licence.
The obvious impact of this scenario, if true, would be to give the home-grown technology - and China Mobile - a head start. But it may perhaps be designed also to put pressure on China Telecom, the smallest mobile player.
Whereas W-CDMA operators China Unicom clearly plans to upgrade to FDD-LTE, China Telecom, which runs an EV-DO network, is pressured by the enormous 4G capital cost and the deeper pockets of its rivals.
Speaking at the company's annual results announcement in March, China Telecom CEO Wang Xiaochu expressed a preference for FDD because of the lower equipment cost. But he also held open the door of using the China Mobile network if he couldn't obtain an FDD licence.
In any event, there's no suggestion Unicom or Telecom will be forced to actually build a TD network. They will simply have to wait awhile. Given that they are at least a year behind China Mobile in 4G preparations, that is no handicap.