Thursday 2 November 2017

The 4G explosion in China

The popularity of 4G mobile services in China continues to increase and subscriber growth shows no signs of slowing down. In fact China has built the world's largest 4G network within just four years and is aiming to add 2 million 4G base stations, mainly for townships and villages, by 2018. China began a campaign aimed at faster and more affordable Internet connection in 2015 resulting in a total of 950 million 4G network users as of the end of September 2017, according to figures from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Served principally by three mobile network operators, China’s mobile sectors are largely divided along technological lines. China Mobile - currently the largest operator by subscribers focuses on the locally-developed TD-LTE 4G standard.  While rivals China Unicom and China Telecom have gone for a mix of TD-LTE and frequency division duplex LTE (FDD-LTE). 

According to Shang Bing, chairman of China Mobile the operator has pursued a strategy of 'Big Connectivity' and invested about CNY450 billion ($66 billion) over the last three years to build  the world’s largest 4G network. Its 4G user base reached 583 million in May 2017, with 4G penetration at 67.5 per cent. “One in four 4G users in the world is a China Mobile user.” It has deployed 1.6 million 4G base stations, or about 30 per cent of the global total, Shang said. Its 4G coverage will reach 99 per cent of the population by the end of the year, when its LTE base station count rises to 1.77 million.

China Telecom’s 4G user base doubled last year to 122 million, with LTE subscribers accounting for 57 per cent of its mobile connections and deploying 1.05 million base stations, while China Unicom’s 4G subs rose from 44.1 million at end-2015 to 104.5 million, representing 40 per cent of its customer base, with 770,000 base stations.

How 4G has helped change and improve lives in China

So why is 4G so important? Probably because it is a vital foundation for all that is to come:

"Future technologies, including 5G, the internet of things and AI (artificial intelligence) will drive society into the era of the internet of everything. The development of 4G has brought about the prosperity of mobile internet and changed people's lives," 

says  Li Zhengmao, vice-president of China Mobile. Industry pundits insist that 4G has been the greatest achievement in the national information technology sector during the past five years in rural and urban areas.But then the benefits of 4G are not limited to urban areas. Rural regions in China have also been opened up by the service. In Huanggang, Hubei province, farmers can sell their produce online through e-commerce sites, and buy crucial equipment safer and quicker through the network. China Telecom has spent 200 million yuan ($29.46 million) to roll out 1,300 base stations in Huanggang.

The decision has increased 4G coverage rates from 35 percent to 93 percent. It has also helped local farmers with vital agricultural information, as well as alleviating poverty through online education.

Even after all this progress, VoLTE is still long way away. According to a report in summer, China Mobile targets 17% VoLTE penetration this year. China Mobile group vice-president Mr.Liu Aili had said back in 2015, "VoLTE network deployment is the one of the most difficult project ever, the implementation complexity and workload is unparalleled in history"

Its not unreasonable to think that since China has the world's largest 4G market it is the  country that will lead the world in the development and utilization of 5G. 

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