LTE handsets in favor as China prepares to issue 4G licenses

A quarter of all smartphones shipped to China next year will be LTE enabled, said research firm IDC

As China prepares to launch its 4G networks, a steady stream of LTE enabled devices will begin entering the country next year, with close to 25 percent of all smartphone shipments designed for the next generation service, according to research firm IDC.

It's still unclear when China's 4G networks will be officially launched. But China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has said the nation would issue its 4G commercial licenses this year.

Currently, China is holding trials of the new networks in various cities across the country. IDC's forecasts point to 4G services launching in China near the end of this year, or early in 2014, said analyst Teck Zhung Wong.

Projections show that in 2014, a quarter of all smartphones shipped to China will be designed for 4G, he said. By 2017, that figure will reach 50 percent

User adoption of 4G in China will be much faster compared with the launch of 3G in 2009, he added. "It was more expensive and consumers didn't have the habit of using a smartphone for a mobile lifestyle," Wong said. "But right now, consumers have accepted this."

As part of the upcoming launch, the nation's largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, is expected to kick-off commercial services of its LTE TDD (Long-Term Evolution Time-Division Duplex) networks, a 4G technology that the Chinese government is backing.

The technology is one of two LTE variants, the other being LTE FDD (Frequency-Division Duplex), a more popular standard in use among the world's other mobile carriers. Both, however, provide high speeds, with LTE TDD able to reach download rates of 100Mbps.

Starting next year, 25 million units, or about 6 percent of all smartphones shipped to China, will be LTE TDD enabled, Wong said. In 2017, that figure will increase to 19 percent, he added.

China Mobile's launch of its LTE TDD services, also known as TD-LTE, is especially important for the carrier, given that its 3G services have struggled to gain customers. Of China Mobile's 714 million customers, currently only 95 million are on the carrier's 3G networks.

Analysts have blamed the slow uptake on the initial lack of smartphones models designed to run on China Mobile's 3G network. But that may change for the carrier's upcoming 4G services. Apple, which has yet to offer its iPhone on China Mobile's 3G network, may finally do so once the carrier's LTE TDD network goes online, according to analysts.

Last month, China Mobile also unveiled four high-end LTE TDD enabled smartphones from handset vendors HTC, LG, Huawei and ZTE.

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Michael Kan

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