A lot of people have not yet started using 3G mobile phone services, but it might soon be time to move on to the fourth generation.
"China Mobile is currently pushing forward with the construction of a dual-mode Time Division Long Term Evolution (TD-LTE) and Frequency Division Duplex (FDD)-LTE network in Hong Kong, and the progress will be revealed at an appropriate time," the company said in a statement e-mailed to the Global Times on November 20, without giving further details.
China Mobile's Hong Kong subsidiary is expected to launch the homegrown fourth-generation (4G) TD-LTE network as early as December, which would make Hong Kong the first area in the Asia-Pacific region to deploy a dual-mode TD-LTE and FDD-LTE network.
The Hong Kong subsidiary of China Mobile launched the FDD-LTE network on April 25, becoming the second telecom carrier after Hong Kong-based CSL to offer 4G services for local users.
The upcoming Hong Kong launch also raises expectations for the ultimate rollout of TD-LTE in the mainland, although the mainland launch is not expected soon.
Miao Wei, head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said in September that the country will start issuing 4G permits for the mainland market in about a year, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
4G era begins
Despite the lack of confirmed dates for TD-LTE's commercial launch in the country, China Mobile has already shown rising ambition for the forthcoming 4G era. This is partly thanks to strong government support for the TD-LTE system, which has been heavily backed by Chinese companies.
TD-LTE has the potential for a large-scale deployment and commercial launch, said Li Zhengmao, vice president of China Mobile, while delivering a speech at a TD-LTE industry forum held by the MIIT on November 16 during the China Hi-Tech Fair in Shenzhen.
Li said that large areas of Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Guangzhou already have 4G TD-LTE coverage, and construction of the TD-LTE network will be started in 2013 in more than 100 major cities across the country.
To showcase the latest developments in TD-LTE, the annual China Hi-Tech Fair also had a special TD-LTE venue for the first time, drawing a lot of attention from visitors.
"It sounds cool," said a visitor surnamed Zhang, referring to 4G. "I have recently subscribed to 3G services, and now it seems that soon I can enjoy an even faster experience," Zhang told the Global Times.
Joy Yang, an analyst at market research firm Gartner Inc, told the Global Times that TD-LTE recently received a boost from Softbank, Japan's third-largest telecom carrier.
Softbank introduced six smartphones based on TD-LTE technology in Tokyo on October 9, helping to address the relatively small presence of TD-LTE smartphones in the market.
Although the development of TD-LTE technology still lags behind that of FDD-LTE, which has been backed by European companies, the Chinese government's desire to support homegrown innovation is expected to benefit China Mobile, analysts said.
The company has not done as well in the 3G era as its two smaller rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom. But the two companies have kept a lower profile amid the move toward the new 4G technology.
During the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the two smaller rivals for the first time unveiled their 4G progress so far.
China Telecom has been piloting 4G base stations in cities such as Shanghai and Nanjing, according to the carrier's chairman, Wang Xiaochu. China Unicom Chairman Chang Xiaobing said his company will gradually increase its involvement in the construction of a 4G network.
China Unicom is widely expected to adopt FDD-LTE as its 4G technology standard, while China Telecom's choice remains unknown.
The fact that TD-LTE trails far behind FDD-LTE in terms of initial uptake has led to mixed market viewpoints on the outlook for the new technology.
Eleven TD-LTE networks have so far been commercially rolled out globally, while a total of 113 LTE networks have been launched in 51 countries, most of which are FDD-LTE, according to the latest data released on November 2 by the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).
Some operators have also commercially rolled out the dual-mode service using both TD-LTE and FDD-LTE, according to the association, without giving the exact figures.
However, TD-LTE technology has considerable growth potential, with more operators worldwide on track to start using it, Windy Zou Kohl, senior vice president and managing director for Asia Pacific at Syniverse Technologies, a US-based mobile communication solutions provider, said on November 15 at a press conference in Nanjing to announce the company's first research and development center in the Chinese market.
There will be huge business opportunities in China's market, driven by the nation's big push into the 4G era, Kohl said.
But some analysts also expressed worries over the risks associated with the new network.
"It would be risky for China Mobile to launch nationwide commercial use of TD-LTE in the near future, given the scarcity of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs that are based on the technology," Huang Meng, an industry analyst at Analysys International in Beijing, told the Global Times on November 14.
A total of 79 TD-LTE products have been launched globally, China Mobile's Li disclosed at the forum, while according to the GSA, as of November 12, 83 manufacturers had announced 560 LTE products.
It will still take a while for China Mobile to build a mature TD-LTE network, and for commercial use of TD-LTE to grow to the extent that it can influence the market won't happen before 2016, Wang Jinjin, head of Asian telecom research at UBS AG, said in an interview with Beijing-based news website caixin.com in October.
"4G may offer some business opportunities, but it is doubtful how much telecom operators can gain from 4G investment. Operators will also face another round of competition with Internet companies," Wang noted.
The carriers have seen rising usage of mobile data services in the current 3G era. But some popular apps from mobile Internet firms - such as Tencent's WeChat, which enables text voice messaging via the Internet - have already eroded earnings of the traditional voice services offered by telecom operators.