China Mobile could deploy commercial TD-LTE faster than expected

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China Mobile could add 20,000 TD-LTE base stations to its trial networks in 2012, likely ramping up the operator's move to a commercial roll out that would be sooner than expected.

China Mobile has said it hopes to complete the next phase of its TD-LTE network trials by June and is pushing to get device makers, including Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), on board with the network technology.

The Chinese carrier, the world's largest by subscribers, finished preliminary trials of the TD-LTE network in six cities with 850 base stations. The next phase for China Mobile is to have the network running for large scale commercial use, and the company plans to launch a network demonstration in Beijing's main Chang An Street and in the city's financial district. "4G handsets and data terminals are expected to be ready for mass production next year. We will launch 4G services commercially when both the network and devices are ready," said Bill Huang, the general manager of China Mobile's Research Institute, according to Dow Jones Newswires earlier this month.

China Mobile has been pushing Apple to produce a TD-LTE iPhone and the company has said it is confident Apple will make one, though Apple has not commented it.

According to Rethink Wireless, China Mobile is experiencing rapid uptake of 3G services. That rapid uptake coupled with increasing pressure on the operator to supplement its TD-SCDMA platform is what is driving the move to TD-LTE faster than expected.

China Mobile is anxious to migrate away from TD-SCDMA, which has a limited ecosystem. Earlier this year Chinese government officials indicated that TD-LTE would not go commercial until there was a proven market, which could be as far away as 2014.

According to Vice Chairman Xi Guohua, China Mobile could build between 10,000 and 20,000 additional TD-LTE base stations around China in 2012. About 50 percent of its 250,000 TD-SCDMA base stations can be gradually upgraded to TD-LTE technology.

This could be good news for Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) TD-LTE plans. The company announced in September that it would collaborate with China Mobile to speed up the development of TD-LTE devices. The primary goal of the partnership is to accelerate the development of a global multi-band, multi-mode chipset that incorporates frequencies between 2.3 GHz and 2.7 GHz.

However, Clearwire CEO Erik Prusch recently revealed that the company is considering forgoing a $237-million debt payment due Dec. 1 in an effort to conserve cash, which could push the company into bankruptcy.

The mobile WiMAX operator had $698 million in cash and short-term investments on hand Sept. 30 and has enough money to make the debt payment. Skipping the payment could raise concerns about the company's liquidity and whether or not it can stay out of bankruptcy court. Clearwire does have a 30-day grace period after the Dec. 1 deadline to make the payment.

Clearwire, in which Sprint owns a 54 percent stake, needs around $600 million to build out the TD-LTE network and $150 million to $300 million to maintain its legacy WiMAX network. Earlier this month, Clearwire CEO Erik Prusch said "there remains a gap" between Clearwire and Sprint, but he said he hopes the companies will be able to reach an agreement on possible funding and network roaming.

Sprint recently disclosed a non-binding agreement between Sprint and Clearwire that will cover the design of Clearwire's planned LTE network, but has yet to fork over any money. In fact, the company went out of its way back in October to exclude Clearwire from its LTE plans, opting to deploy LTE in its 1900 MHz spectrum and other bands as capacity becomes available. During an investor conference last month, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse seemed at ease with Clearwire edging into bankruptcy, declaring that no bankrupt wireless company has ever shut down its network and that it was Clearwire's responsibility to re-engage with Sprint--not the other way around.

For more:
- see this Rethink Wireless article

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