Chinese telecoms authority the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has awarded the long-awaited Frequency Division Duplex Long Term Evolution (FDD-LTE) licences to China Unicom and China Telecom. The regulator had issued concessions for rival 4G platform and home-grown technology Time Division (TD)-LTE in December 2013, but Unicom and Telecom opted instead to use the FDD standard as the mainstay for their 4G networks. Both providers were given permission to roll out some FDD/TD-LTE hybrid networks on a limited basis in 2014, originally restricted to just 16 cities but gradually extended to cover 56 cities.
Whilst Unicom and Telecom have been waiting to receive permissions for their preferred 4G technology, market leader China Mobile has stormed ahead, rolling out more than 700,000 TD-LTE base stations and signing up 106.8 million 4G subscribers by the end of January 2015. The early mover advantage has strengthened China Mobile’s position in the market, pushing the sector towards a de-facto monopoly. Subscriber growth has slowed across the board, but has been pronounced for Unicom and Telecom, with the latter recording its first fall in subscription in mid-2014. As previously reported by CommsUpdate, the disparity between Mobile and its two smaller competitors gave rise to rumours earlier this year that the government was planning to merge Unicom and Telecom to create a single entity that could compete on a more level playing field with the wireless behemoth: China Mobile represents more than 60% of the Chinese mobile market, is the largest cellco in the world by subscribers, and in Q4 2014 overtook US provider Verizon to become the largest 4G provider in the world.