After over a year of speculations, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MITT) has finally granted 4G licenses to the country’s three mobile carriers.
China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom all have received a license to provide 4G service using the Beijing-backed TD-LTE technology, according to a notice on the MIIT’s website.
The ministry also awarded China Mobile a license to operate fixed-line services, a move which will allow the mobile giant to compete directly with China Telecom and China Unicom in the booming fixed broadband market.
However, licenses for the more widely deployed FDD-LTE standard have not yet been awarded by the government.
The ministry said it will approve the launch of FDD-LTE technology trials based on applications from mobile carries, and an inspection of the hybrid FDD-LTE/TD-LTE network model. The FDD-LTE licenses will also be issued “when conditions are more mature”, the regulator added.
In separate statements, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom confirmed that they received licenses.
China Mobile said it has started offering 4G service and plans to roll out the service in 13 cities, including Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Nanjing, Xiamen, Shanghai, and Chengdu, by the end of this year.
China Telecom said it will apply for a FDD-LTE license "as soon as practicable", according to a statement to the Hong Kong Exchange.
According to the MIIT, China Telecom is building TD-LE trial networks in 42 cities across the country and is working on addressing the interoperable issue between CDMA and TD-LTE technologies.
Unicom said it “will continue to proactively apply for the launch of LTE FDD technology test run and aims to leverage on the 3G [W-CDMA] network in order to provide users with mobile broadband data services with a higher speed.”
Industry watchers expect that the licensing will mostly benefit China Mobile, which has been pinning its hope on TD-LTE to strengthen its leading position in the market. China Mobile has lost many high-end users to smaller rivals China Unicom and China Telecom due to its slugging 3G/TD-SCMDA technology.
The operator, which has grabbed a hefty of 130MHz of TDD spectrum, has invested heavily in building out the new 4G network. Earlier this year, it committed to spending $7 billion to build 207,000 base stations for the new network around the country.
The licensing also paves the way for the mobile carriers to accelerate building new networks next year, which are expected to benefits telecom equipment vendors like Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE and NSN.