Monday, 15 July 2013 17:35

4G comes to China – cheaper phones to follow Featured

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China is the world’s largest mobile phone market, but it does not yet have a 4G network. That is about to change – which means cheaper 4G phones.

China’s three major telcos have all announced 4G strategies in the last week, after the Government has said it will soon start offering 4G licences. The production of hundreds of millions of 4G phones for the country’s massive domestic market will considerably lower the costs of handsets worldwide.

The first carrier to announce a 4G network is China Mobile, whose 703 million subscribers make it the largest telco in the world. The scale of the rollout is massive – China has over 100 cities with a population of a million people or more. China Mobile is majority owned by the Chinese Government, and is listed on the Honk Kong and New York stock exchanges.

Official Chinese news agency Xinhua reports China Mobile’s Chairman Xi Guohua as saying that the company has already built more than 22,000 base stations in 15 cities, and intends to expand this to 200,000 base stations by the end of the year. By way of comparison, Telstra has fewer than 2000 across Australia.

China’s other two mobile operators, China Unicom and China Telecom, have indicated they are actively considering developing 4G networks. They favour the FD (Frequency Division, also called FDD for Frequency Division Duplex) 4G standard, while China Mobile is going with the TD (Time Division) standard. In Australia, Telstra and Vodafone use FD, while Optus uses both FD and TD. TD is generally agreed to be better for data transmission.

Xinhua reports that Shang Bing, a vice-minister in China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as saying the development of the TD-LTE technology has entered a fast-track phase. "The Chinese government will firmly support TD-LTE industry development, and help create a favourable policy and market environment.”

Most of China’s mobile phone manufacturers have made 4G phones for the international market, but in comparatively low numbers. They will soon be manufacturing 4G handsets in volumes of hundreds of millions, which will put further downward pressure on prices.

Huawei, the largest Chinese manufacturer, already has a very close relationship with China Mobile and has supplied much of the infrastructure for the Chinese 4G network. Expect a range of new low end – as in cheap, cheap, cheap - 4G models in the next year.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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