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TD-LTE 4G network is currently undergoing a final set of large-scale tests, while 3G infrastructure is built up

China may be the largest smartphone market in the world, but for the most part it's stuck in the 3G slow lane.  

To understand why China has not reached the level of LTE mass deployment the U.S. has, one must understand a bit about how mobile access works in China.  In China, like in the U.S., there are several large national carriers.  Each carrier obtains licenses from the government to use certain chunks of spectrum.

However, in China, the carriers are state-owned.  Rather than the carriers licensing the spectrum up front and then determining deployment details on a case-by-case basis, initial deployment testing is carried out by the government and precedes any license grants.

That's more or less been the story with TD-LTE (Time-Division Long Term Evolution) technology -- China's 4G (fourth generation) LTE technology, which differs in technical implementation from the Frequency-Division Long Term Evolution (FD-LTE) used in the U.S.

Initial testing has been carried out on China Mobile, a state run carrier, but TD-LTE handset selection has been limited and coverage is only available in some markets.

Despite tests showing TD-LTE being ready for prime time, China's 4G deployment was delayed due to another factor -- lack of base stations.  Chinese central planners wanted the number of TD-SCDMA (Time Division-Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) base stations to be expanded from 220,000 to 400,000 [source].  Only then would upgrades be applied to the state-owned base stations to make them TD-LTE compatible.  And licenses would not be granted until that patch had rolled out.

China Mobile base station
A base station towers at China Mobile, the nation's largest carrier. [Image Source: M.I.C. Gadget]

That meant that previous reports indicated that 2014 was the reported date for mass TD-LTE licensing among China's state-owned carriers.

But a new report in state-owned news agency Xinhua cites Miao Wei, head of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), as saying that in about a year (H2 2013) licenses will be granted.

China Mobile, who will have 20,000 base stations upgraded to be TD-LTE compatible by the year's end, reportedly stated that it will have 350,000 compatible upgraded base stations by 2014.

The Asian giant may be a little late to the LTE party, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't still seize the speed crown.  In the U.S. LTE speeds, despite broad availability, remain well below the official specified rates.

Source: Xinhua





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