China 4G subs to reach 440m by 2017

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IHS predicts China Mobile’s early TD-LTE efforts will enable it to steal a march on its rivals.

China will see 4G connections surge from just 1 million in 2013 to 439.9 million in 2017, with China Mobile establishing itself as clear market leader, IHS predicted this week.

According to the research firm, the country’s biggest operator by subscribers will boast 228.8 million 4G users by 2017, representing 52% of the total . China Mobile has been busy developing its home-grown TD-LTE technology, and has set a target of deploying 200,000 TD-LTE base stations before the end of the year. By 2017, IHS predicts it will have deployed 600,000 TD-LTE base stations, compared to 400,000 for China Telecom and 300,000 for China Unicom.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported in early February that China Mobile has been trialling 4G in 13 locations, and has recently extended trials to two new cities, Hangzhou and Wenzhou, both in Zhejiang province.

“[TD-LTE] will make its first widespread deployment this year, with a total of 1 million subscribers—all claimed by China Mobile,” predicted Hailin Zhao, analyst for China research at IHS, in a research note on Monday. “With its aggressive moves to establish 4G trials and deploy base stations, China Mobile has set the stage for dominance of the 4G market over the next four years.”

This is particularly important in light of China Mobile’s struggles in the 3G market.

Unlike rivals China Unicom and China Telecom, which rolled out 3G networks based on established WCDMA and cdma2000 technology respectively, China Mobile has had to work hard to foster an ecosystem around its very own 3G standard, TD-SCDMA.

Although it leads the 3G market with 95 million subscribers as of January, these represent just a small proportion of its 714.7 million-strong customer base. By comparison, China Unicom ended January with 242.9 million customers, 80.1 million of which were 3G users, while 72.1 million of third-placed China Telecom’s 163.2 million customer base were 3G subscribers.

Unlike TD-SCDMA though, TD-LTE has been adopted in other markets, and so while the device ecosystem is still not as well established compare to the FDD variant of LTE, chances are it will be supported by the world’s big handset makers.