In-depth: The rapid uptake of LTE in China
LTE in China is projected to reach 1.2 billion subscribers by 2021
Almost two years after the launch, China Mobile said it has approximately 267.3 million LTE subscribers and aims to reach 300 million customers by the end of this year.
The telco has recorded a nearly 213 million net LTE addition since October 2014. Currently, LTE connections account for 32.4% of China Mobile’s overall mobile customer base.
China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, initially launched LTE services in December 2013, using spectrum in the 1900 MHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.5 GHz bands. At the end of June, China Mobile said it had 940,000 LTE base stations, covering approximately 1 billion people.
Meanwhile, rival operators China Telecom and China Unicom launched LTE in China back in February 2014 and March 2014 respectively.
China Telecom is currently offering LTE in China through spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band. According to the company’s latest financial report, China Telecom ended the third quarter of 2015 with a total of 43.7 million LTE subscribers, posting 36.6 million net additions during the first three quarters of 2015. The operator obtained its nationwide FDD-LTE license in February, having previously launched “4G” services through a hybrid TDD/FDD network.
According to previous reports, China Telecom aims to provide LTE coverage to 95% of the country’s population by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, China Unicom ended October with a total of 176.4 million subscribers in the 3G and 4G segments, after posting 4 million net additions during the month. China Unicom recently announced plans to deploy additional LTE base stations across the country. The operator’s goal is to end 2015 with 1.2 million 3G and 4G sites after the deployment of 500,000 4G cell sites during 2015.
China Unicom said it expects to increase peak speeds of its LTE service to 300 megabits per second by the end of 2015 and 330 Mbps in 2016 via the use of tri-band carrier aggregation technology. The operator also expects to launch new services including voice over LTE in 2016.
In terms of LTE deployments, China Mobile benefited from the government initially awarding TD-LTE licenses in 2013, which were based on unpaired spectrum. This was a clear advantage for China Mobile as the operator’s 3G network was already based on TD-SCDMA technology that used unpaired spectrum.
In contrast, China Telecom and China Unicom had 3G networks based on paired spectrum technology so they expected the government to award the FDD-LTE licenses to start massive LTE deployments. Until February 2015, when the government issued the FDD-LTE licenses to these two operators, China Telecom and China Unicom had a license to run so-called hybrid FDD-TDD trials in 56 cities across the country.
In October, the three operators signed an agreement to transfer a combined 231 billion yuan ($36 billion) worth of telecommunications towers and related assets to China Tower, a joint infrastructure venture. China Mobile owns a 38% stake in the joint venture while rivals China Unicom and China Telecom each have about 28%. China Tower already took control of almost 1 million towers owned by the three Chinese operators. The joint venture is expected to build more than 1 million towers over the next two years.
According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report, the Chinese market will continue to dominate the global LTE market into 2021, with approximately 1.2 billion LTE connections, which will represent more than 29% of global LTE connections.