Licensing Dilemma for Chinese Regulators

There are several rumors regarding the issuance date of 4G licenses being November 28, December 18, or the end of December. November 28 has already passed without issuing licenses, so it is speculated that licenses might be issued to coincide with the date of China Mobile's introduction of the 4G brand. Finally, China has issued TD-LTE licenses on December 4, 2013 after a year of speculation. Why is the allocation of 4G spectrum so mysterious? What is the concern behind the 4G licenses?

The allocation of LTE spectrum will not only affect the competitive situation within China's telecommunication industry, but it will also affect China's promotion of TD-LTE standards globally, the development of related industries, and an economic restructuring boost.

Chinese regulators would like to see the three major mobile operators compete with each other, providing a higher quality of service at lower prices. Therefore, the mode and timing of license issuance will be an important instrument to control the competition among the carriers. When 3G technology was introduced to China in 2009, it broke down China Mobile's effective monopoly, setting up three commercially competitive players that struggled to offer better services. However, China's support for TD-LTE and its successful commercialization in China will influence the entire TD-LTE industry. Along with global LTE deployments, especially FD-LTE's worldwide commercialization, it remains to be seen whether China can issue the 4G license in time to affect the entire TD-LTE industrial chain or if TD-LTE will suffer the same isolation as TD-SCDMA.

Currently, if only three TD-LTE licenses were issued, which could boost confidence along the TD-LTE industrial chain, it might strongly reduce the competiveness of China Unicom and China Telecom, giving China Mobile a monopoly in the 4G market. In the case of issuing TD-LTE licenses to China Mobile and FD-LTE licenses to the other two, China Mobile would face strong competition in the 4G market, especially considering the maturity of the FD-LTE industrial ecosystem and the diversity of end devices. However, it would ultimately impact TD- LTE adoption in China.

After issuing TD-LTE licences at the end of 2013, ABI Research expects that Chinese regulators will issue TD-LTE licenses by the end of 2013 and will then issue FD-LTE licenses to China Unicom and China Telecom in 2014 or later. China Mobile may also receive an FD-LTE license if it were to apply.