China Mobile, the country's largest mobile carrier, will release its first voice-over-LTE phones next year as part of its plan to bring a full range of handsets to its upcoming 4G network.
The carrier, with over 700 million customers, has steadily been building up industry-wide support for a 4G technology, LTE TDD, that the Chinese government has been actively promoting. Later this year, the country's regulators will issue commercial 4G licenses to the telecom operators, enabling China Mobile to roll out services using the 4G standard.
The first batch of LTE TDD handsets have already received Chinese regulatory approval, according to Tang Jianfeng, vice general manager for China Mobile's devices company.
"Once they receive a network access license, the LTE devices can start to be sold," he said Tuesday at the Smartphone 2.0 Summit held by The Great Wall Club. In total, eight LTE TDD products have passed regulatory checks, Tang added.
Some of the first LTE TDD products will include Samsung's Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy S4, and other handsets from Sony, Huawei Technologies and ZTE. "All the global mainstream are coming out with these LTE products," Tang said.
The new handsets not only signal the imminent arrival of 4G in the country, but also highlight China Mobile's years-long efforts to get handset makers and chip vendors to support the LTE TDD (Long-Term Evolution Time Division Duplex) technology.
The carrier's previous launch of its 3G services in 2009 was marred by the fact that it used a new standard called TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) that was not widely supported by the industry. As a result, China Mobile was slow to launch attractive handsets capable of using its 3G networks, and only in the last year has it caught up with its rivals in smartphone sales, according to analysts.
LTE TDD, also known as TD-LTE in China, has become a mature technology, and already 16 different vendors are building mobile chips to support it, Tang said. These include components that will allow smartphones to use both LTE TDD and FDD (Frequency Division Duplexing) standards, he added.
The company's voice over LTE phones, slated to arrive in the second half of 2014, will allow the handsets to make high-definition voice calls over its 4G network. The technology is still not widely deployed, but adoption could grow gradually.
In addition, China Mobile will also start selling low-end TDD LTE handsets next year priced at around 1000 yuan (US$162), Tang said.
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