Decisions within the Chinese government often are opaque. The question of when customers in mainland China will get 4G LTE (News - Alert) is one of those issues where analysts can only speculate while timelines are decided behind closed doors.
Currently mobile carriers such as China Mobile (News - Alert) are prohibited from offering 4G within the country, but a new report presented at a recent conference hints that China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) might start issuing 4G permits in 2013, according to a The New Web post.
“In 2013, China will promote the coordinated development of TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE, actively promote the expansion of TD-LTE trials, and conscientiously finalize LTE frequency allocation and licensing preparations,” the government agency said in a report, quoted and translated by The New Web.
The report does not conclusively spell out when 4G permits might become available, however, as C. Custer noted in Tech In China.
“The MIIT report does not say that it will actually issue any 4G network permits in 2013,” noted Custer. “In other words, MIIT will be prepared to issue 4G network permits, but whether not the Ministry actually will issue any in 2013 is less clear. It’s possible that China Mobile could have to wait until 2014 to roll out its TD-LTE service.”
Some have speculated 4G permits might start being issued in March, while others suggest October. But nobody really knows the timeline.
Earlier this year, an MIIT official suggested that 4G licenses might not start being issued for two to three more years.
MIIT does seem to be signaling that it is finally satisfied with the growth of 3G, however, and the country can now begin moving toward 4G.
China Mobile has an extensive 4G test network, according to Custer, but MIIT has wanted to wait for 3G network market to grow and mature before allowing it to be replaced with 4G.
Of the more than 1 billion wireless subscribers in China, only about 220 million of them are on 3G, according to The Next Web post.
The MIIT has implied that it would like to see 400,000 TD-LTE base stations in place before the commercial move to 4G.
This past September, the MIIT issued a notice regarding plans for frequency spectrum for the next generation of wireless technologies, according to The Next Web. Then in October, it confirmed plans to allocate a total of 120MHz for FDD-LTE, with half coming from the 1800MHz band and half coming from 2100MHz.
China Mobile certainly is hoping for the opportunity to sell 4G LTE to its customers, according to Custer. “Now, it seems that after a long wait, that day may finally be coming.”
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Edited by Peter Bernstein