China will not issue 4G licenses for another 2 to 3 years, says official

China is currently holding large-scale trials using 4G LTE TDD technology

China will likely wait another two or three years to issue 4G licenses for LTE TDD networks, a top government official said, citing the need to build more 4G base stations, and to allow vendors time to develop handsets that can take advantage of the high-speed networks.

The country currently has 220,000 TD-SCDMA (Time Division-Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) base stations, but the government wants to expand their numbers to a total of 400,000 before offering 4G licenses, Miao Wei, the head of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said during an interview on Thursday with local state-owned TV.

The ministry is currently holding large-scale 4G trials using LTE TDD (Long-Term Evolution Time-Division Duplex) technology, also known as TD-LTE in China.

LTE TDD is one of two LTE variants. Mobile operators in other countries including the U.S., are relying on the other variant, LTE FDD (Frequency Division Duplex), to offer their 4G services.

China plans to roll out LTE TDD by upgrading existing base stations that use the 3G TD-SCDMA standard, Miao said. The effort will take about three years time, he added.

The ministry also needs to take steps to get handset and chip vendors to support LTE TDD phones, a barrier that has been holding back China's 4G development, according to Miao. "We need their active participation, to speed up development of the commercial trials," he said.

China is reaching 1 billion mobile phone users, according to mobile carrier statistics. The country's 3G networks, which went online in 2009, however account for only 135 million users.

The deployment of LTE TDD is also being pushed by China Mobile, the country's largest mobile carrier. The state-owned company has been working to build partnerships to promote the LTE TDD as a global standard.

These efforts aim to build an "eco-system" to support software and hardware development for the LTE technology. China Mobile has also said Apple's future iPhone will support the LTE TDD standard.

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