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China's 4G licenses still years away

Long road ahead for the base station builders

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It might have close to one billion mobile subscribers but China’s 4G network infrastructure won’t be ready for another two or three years, according to a government official.

Ministry of Industry and Information Technology chief Miao Wei, told local TV last week that the government wanted to double the number of 4G base stations before dishing out licenses, according to IDG.

China currently has around 220,000 3G TD-SCDMA (Time Division-Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) base stations but they will need to be upgraded to the 4G variant being trialled in the country - LTE TDD (Long-Term Evolution Time-Division Duplex).

The government also needs to cajole the major chip and handset makers to start developing products compatible with the LTE TDD standard, Miao reportedly said.

Deloitte’s TMT lead for China, William Chou, told The Reg that 3G has largely been a failure in the country given that 80 per cent of its mobile users are still on 2G networks.

“Smartphones are still too expensive for many people and 3G speeds just aren’t high enough so people aren’t willing to spend the money on these [services],” he said.

“I’m quite optimistic of 4G, though, it’s only a matter of time, although the problem in China is not the network itself but the large geography. China has to build 4G out city by city.”

In the UK, Ofcom’s attempts to auction off the 4G spectrum holdings have been hit by delay after delay, with the network operators blaming each other, the regulator, and apparently anyone else who’ll listen.

With the auctions now scheduled for the end of 2012 at the earliest, it’s certainly a possibility that China could have 4G up and running in some cities at least while the name calling and procrastination continues to hold Blighty back. ®

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