Caixin
Jan 20, 2012 04:30 PM

Busy Signal as China Mobile Readies 4G Launch

China Mobile, the country's largest telecom, convened a series of secret equipment manufacturer meetings at its research institute in November.

On the agenda were test results for component vendors seeking to supply a network based on TD-LTE, a 4G mobile phone standard developed by China Mobile.

China Mobile had tested the products to decide which might be used for a growing, nationwide 4G network – an upgrade from the current top-of-the-line 3G network.

In an unusual move, though, telecom officials chose not to hold a group discussion but rather meet representatives from each equipment maker one-on-one.

China Mobile spent two years laying the groundwork for implementing TD-LTE nationwide. Major tests were held throughout 2011 at research facilities in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiamen. But to date, the telecom has been mum about its results.

Even vendors are in the dark. At the meetings, all test results and rankings for the invited vendors were in the state-run carrier's hands, said a supplier source who attended the meeting, "but we didn't know them."

Expectation Gap

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and China Mobile recently announced that 10 manufacturers have completed work on 850 base stations for the nationwide, 4G network expected to take shape over the next few years.

China Mobile Vice President Li Zhengmao said at the November meeting that the network's progress has been "in line with expectations."

But according to previous reports, the company had expected a lot more by early 2012. An fourth quarter 2010 report by Orient Securities, for example, said the telecom planned to build 3,060 TD-LTE base stations for major testing in Hangzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Xiamen.

China Mobile's five-year company plan for the period through 2015 set a timetable for TD-LTE that would include commercial trials in urban areas in 2012 and 2013, and coverage in most Chinese cities by 2015. To meet these goals, major testing should have been completed last year. But it wasn't.

Why the slowdown? China Mobile won't say. But Chang Gang, China marketing director for equipment supplier Ericsson, told Caixin, "there is certainly no problem with the seven major vendors, but others entered late and only began building base stations in July."

Vendors that passed MIIT testing in March and began building components for the network include domestic suppliers Huawei Technologies, ZTE and Datang Telecom Technology, along with international firms Nokia Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, Motorola and Ericsson.

Caixin obtained documents from Datang showing each of these vendors completed construction projects and started testing in early June.

But the vendors Guangzhou New Postcom Equipment, Fiberhome Telecom Technologies and China Potevio did not pass MIIT's tests until May 26.

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