Service Providers

China’s Three Carriers Start Dash to Deploy 4G Infrastructure

09 October 2013

China’s three state-owned telecommunications carriers are engaged in a heated race to deploy next-generation 4G infrastructure to snag as much data traffic now coursing through the country’s pipelines, a calculated strategy that could potentially translate into larger subscriber numbers as well as greater revenue in the future.

China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are launching a total of 1.05 million 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) base transceiver stations (BTS) from 2013 to 2015, with efforts starting in earnest this year, according to a new topical report from IHS Inc., a leading global source of critical information and insight.

China Mobile will have the biggest push this year with 207,000 BTS units, followed by China Telecom with 70,000 and China Unicom with 30,000. By 2015, China Mobile will continue to have the largest LTE BTS network in place with 477,000 units, compared to 320,000 for China Mobile and 250,000 for China Unicom.

The totals include BTS units adhering on the one hand to the TD-LTE standard championed by China Mobile, as well as BTS units on the other supporting both the FDD-LTE and TD-LTE mode being jointly developed by China Telecom and China Unicom.

The base transceiver stations being installed by the Chinese carriers represent equipment facilitatiing wireless communications between a wireless network and a user’s mobile device, which in the case of China mainly takes the form of mobile handsets—although wireless computers and tablets conceivably could also be part of the equation.

Huge numbers are at stake

After several years of attempting to develop their own mobile Internet business in fits and starts, China’s carriers are refocusing their sights starting this year on building intelligent 4G wireless pipelines for wider use. The effort is important because mobile revenue accounts for an increasingly larger share of each carrier’s overall revenue. And revenue could grow even more if more next-generation wireless infrastructure were in place, which could then take advantage of the vigorous data traffic brought about by the country’s hundreds of millions of mobile users.

The scale of wireless usage is staggering in a vast country like China, which also has the world’s largest population. At the end of May this year, there were 1.2 billion mobile users in the country—nearly four times the entire population of the United States.

That number is up a solid 5 percent from the end of 2012, equivalent to an increase of some 60 million users. Of the total mobile subscriber base, 309.5 million were 3G users ripe for upgrading to 4G if the infrastructure were available.

Mobile users in the first five months of the year genereated revenue worth $55.1 billion, up 10 percent from the same time last year. In all, mobile made up a whopping 71 percent of the total revenue for carriers within the period.

A plan for each on how best to move forward

Each Chinese carrier has its own strategy for deploying 4G infrastructure within the next two years.

For China Mobile, the largest operator in the country and also possessor of the world’s largest mobile subscriber base, the carrier is installing 4G networks first and then upgrading performance later. This year and next, China Mobile is putting in place more TD-LTE networks in the country’s urban and rural areas, with the carrier then hoping to optimize network performance and fill in blank spots during 2015. Approximately 150,000 BTS units will be deployed next year, and then 100,000 more in 2015, on top of the 207,000 this year and the 20,000 built in 2012.

For its part, No. 2 China Telecom declared its intention to be the leader in providing an integrated platform combining FDD-LTE and TD-LTE. The two differ in the way they utilize wireless spectrum and frequency, but commandeering both standards essentially allows China Telecom to address any coverage gaps arising from discrepancies.

China Unicom, the smallest of the three carriers, is adopting the same approach by simultaneously deploying the two standards, although at a smaller scale. Also, China Unicom is still enhancing its 3G coverage this year in the country’s rural areas and is not as keen to build out 4G networks for the time being. But by enlarging its current area of wireless coverage, the carrier then hopes to lay the foundation for broader 4G deployment after 2013.

For both China Telecom and China Unicom, FDD-LTE will serve as the primary standard for deployment with TD-LTE filling in a supplementary capacity.

China Telecom is set install a total of 140,000 BTS units next year and then 110,000 units in 2015. For its part, China Unicom will put in place 120,000 and 100,000 units, respectively, during the same two-year period.

Read more >> LTE network deployment a key race in China

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