Cellcos push for FDD licences by May; Unicom installs 100,000 4G base stations

3 Feb 2015

State-owned operators China Telecom and China Unicom are planning to expand trials of Frequency Division Duplex Long Term Evolution (FDD-LTE) to 100 cities from the current 56, in a bid to pressure the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to issue full licences for the technology, local news portal C114 writes, citing industry insiders. The duo favour the FDD-LTE standard over the home-grown Time Division (TD) variant preferred by regulator, but have so far been restricted to deploying the technology on a trial basis as part of hybrid TD/FDD LTE networks. TD-LTE licences were distributed in late 2013 and rumours abounded throughout 2014 that FDD concessions would be issued before the end of the year. Industry and IT minister Miao Wei poured cold water on these rumours in December 2014, however, when he announced that the MITT would consider allocating FDD licences in 2015, once ‘conditions are mature’. The delay in licensing has held back challengers Unicom and Telecom whilst allowing market leader China Mobile to get a head start in the 4G sector. Speeding up the rollout of FDD-LTE technology will force the regulator to issue concessions for the platform, according to the news outlet’s sources, which expect the concessions to be issued by 17 May – World Telecommunications Day.

In a related development, China Unicom announced that it deployed 100,000 4G base stations in 2014, including 90,000 using FDD-LTE technology and 10,000 on TD-LTE and the cellco recorded peak download rates of 150Mbps on its hybrid TD/FDD-LTE network. Unicom also rolled out 36,000 new 3G indoor and outdoor base stations in the western regions, achieving continuous 3G coverage in all township regions. In the fixed broadband space the operators added 18.23 million broadband ports and 36.43 million fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) subscriptions. The proportion of customers utilising connections with download speeds of 20Mbps in the city and 4Mbps in rural areas increased to 69% and 81% respectively.