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China to get 20,000 4G base stations ... just for starters

China Mobile trusts ZTE, even if the Americans don't

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China Mobile has gone domestic and awarded ZTE the contract to deploy 20,000 TD-LTE base stations, putting the company at the leading edge of TD-LTE development.

Not that Chinese users will get any 4G goodness for another year or perhaps two, as China Mobile is still trying to realise its investment in the home-grown 3G standard (TD-SCDMA), which hasn't taken off as quickly as it had hoped. But even over two years that's a lot of base stations, and good news for ZTE as TD-LTE takes off around the world.

TD-LTE uses a single frequency for sending and receiving signals, switching between them like an old-fashioned walkie-talkie. That allows asynchronous communications if not simultaneous, which lends itself well to modern data consumption, even if it's not the way telcos are used to working.

But the alternative, FD-LTE, requires pairs of frequencies with a decent (and fixed) separation between them, which makes the bands more expensive and is pretty wasteful when half the bandwidth will be empty most of the time. The vast majority of frequencies auctioned for 4G are paired, but TD-LTE is fitting into the gaps around them.

Nokia Siemens Networks today announced it would be building a TD-LTE network in Spain for newbie telco COTA – and last month SK Telecom, working with Ericsson, demonstrated handover between FD and TD variants, enabling a single device to use both network technologies and roam between them.

But China Mobile's deployment, even taken slowly, will dwarf other efforts. Three's UK network, in its entirety, is only about 12,000 base stations, while China Mobile will be using 20,000 just to cover 13 cities, which will give ZTE huge advantages in scale – even if the Americans won't buy from them. ®

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