Will TD-LTE dominate?

News that China Mobile has struck agreements with foreign operators to test TD-LTE will have set alarm bells ringing for many in the mobile industry.

The tests, which will take place with unnamed operators within the next six months, will likely cause equipment vendors to review their product strategies, operators to ponder their LTE decisions, and WiMAX supporters to look for new and greener pastures.

As an indication of China Mobile's commitment to push TD-LTE at an international level, Wang Jianzhou, the company's chairman, said that many mobile operators in Asia, Europe and North America had expressed an interest in developing TD-LTE networks, adding that China Mobile would co-operate with committed operators to develop the trial networks.

However, the impact this will have on European operators that have already made the commitment to deploy FDD-LTE is likely to be small. The logical route for most GSM and UMTS operators has been to upgrade along the FDD path with the paired spectrum they own.

According to the GMSA, 22 operators have already stated their intent to launch LTE this year and many others will start by the end of 2012. These companies are not likely to revisit their choice of network technology based upon a standard that has not yet been ratified.

However, the Chinese government said last month that it would apply for TD-LTE to become an international standard by October of this year. This provoked Zhao Houlin, deputy secretary-general of the ITU, to state that there was a 70 per cent possibility for the technology to be chosen as a 4G standard.

But an indication as to how TD-LTE might find a way forward in the wider world has come from Bill Huang, general manager of China Mobile Research Institute.

"There is the possibility, for the first time, to build a worldwide LTE standard that incorporates FDD and TD technologies," said Huang.

Notably, Huang claimed TD-LTE would be ready for commercialisation in the next six to 12 months, and would have several test devices, including wireless WAN cards and wireless routers, available by the end of 2010.

Without a doubt, China Mobile is the major backer of TD-LTE and has tested and deployed a network using the technology at the Shanghai World Expo. It has stated that it will expand the network to more Chinese cities in the coming months.

While the promotion and deployment of TD-LTE networks seem certain to damage--perhaps terminally--the future for WiMAX, China Mobile is less interested in this side effect, and more interested in seeing TD-LTE become predominant in China, India and Russia.

If this comes to fruition, which seems increasingly likely, then not only will TD-LTE become a significant force (the largest?), but European and the US operators will need to react accordingly. -Paul