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China races to launch 4G network

BEIJING -- China will finish large-scale testing of the fourth-generation (4G) mobile communication network, TD-LTE, in the next 18 months, signifying the country's intention to join the race in the deployment of advanced communications systems and share the benefits with developed markets.

Zhang Feng, director of the telecommunications development department at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said at a news conference in Beijing that large-scale tests of the TD-LTE network, which kicked off earlier this month, will last about one-and-a-half years.

He said the research and development of TD-LTE commercial devices will be completed in 2012, adding that “China welcomes international companies to participate in the development of TD-LTE.”

4G, which can provide a connection speed more than 50 times faster than the current 3G network, is regarded as the growth engine for the future telecom market.

China Mobile, the country's biggest carrier, will be in charge of constructing, operating and maintaining the networks. Telecom equipment providers, including Nokia Siemens Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Datang Telecom Technology & Industry, ZTE and Huawei, are all involved in the trials.

Wang Jianzhou, chairman of China Mobile, said in Davos, Switzerland, that his company has won “full support” from Apple Inc for TD-LTE technology. He said the company was also considering an invitation from Belgium to apply for a 4G license in the country, the website QQ.com reported on Thursday.

“After lagging behind world telecom leaders for many years, we are finally standing at the forefront of the industry and we are very excited about the prospect,” he was quoted as saying.

According to research firm Maravedis, 22 4G networks were in operation by the end of 2010 and another 39 will be in use by 2012.

Due to the deployment of 4G in the United States, Japan and Europe, the capital expenditure of the telecom market could shrug off drops in the past two years and rise by almost 7 percent to US$40.3 billion, US research firm iSuppli said in August.

In the 4G market, Huawei took 36 percent of the share, the research company TeleGeography said.

Earlier this month, MIIT gave the green light to large-scale trials of TD-LTE networks in six cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Xiamen.

Wang Yuquan, senior consultant with research firm Frost & Sullivan in China, said he doesn't expect China to launch the 4G service commercially in the next three years.

“I think the Chinese government will not give approval for the 4G service until its huge investment in TD-SCDMA bears some fruit in the market,” said Wang.

According to the latest data from MIIT, the number of China's 3G users reached 47 million last year, with users of TD-SCDMA hitting 20.7 million, accounting for 44 percent of China's 3G market. But Wang said the number was greatly exaggerated, as few TD-SCDMA users actually use the data service.

During the past few years, China Mobile has been actively promoting TD-LTE as the company has struggled with TD-SCDMA, a 3G standard that is believed to be less mature than WCDMA and CDMA2000 adopted by China Unicom and China Telecom.

China's LTE plan was accepted as one of the major candidates for a global 4G standard in October and may finally become an international standard as late as 2012.

An official from the China Academy of Telecommunication Research under MIIT told China Daily on Thursday that China may start commercial deployment of 4G service in 2014, as the system and handset supports for the new technology still need time to mature.

“That timing will also give room for China's 3G market, in which the government has invested billions of yuan,” said the official, who declined to be named.

Zhang Feng from MIIT said on Thursday that the Chinese government will continue to support the development of TD-SCDMA.

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