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China may hold back on 4G for another few years, report says

Government says it may not grant 4G licenses for another two to three years. The delay could affect how carriers around the world adopt 4G.

Li Yue, president of China Mobile, speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
China Mobile may not move into 4G for another two to three years. Pictured here is Li Yue, president of China Mobile, speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

China may hold back on moving into 4G LTE even as the U.S. carriers race ahead to roll out next-generation networks.

The Chinese government is looking to hold back on granting the licenses required for its own carriers to deploy 4G LTE, according to a report from PC World, which cited local state-owned TV. The government said it may wait two to three years before granting the licenses, citing a need by carriers to expand the current 3G network equipment, as well as to wait for broader support for a variant of LTE called TD-LTE.

A delay could have implications for the global launch of TD-LTE, which so far has seen commitments from a few major players, although fewer actual deployments. China Mobile would have been the largest carrier to move into TD-LTE, with its scale driving faster adoption of the technology, and had been pushing TD-LTE as a global standard. In the U.S., Clearwire plans to start deploying such a network in a few months and has counted on its partnership with China Mobile.

The move could also put that partnership in limbo, although it's uncertain how it will actually shake out. Clearwire, based in Bellevue, Wash., wasn't immediately available for comment.

China was similarly late to the game with 3G licenses, and China Mobile only began deploying its 3G network in 2009. PC World noted that while China Mobile has nearly 1 billion customers, only 135 million are on its faster 3G network.

In comparison, Verizon Wireless completed its 3G network build out by 2007, while AT&T is currently trying to get customers off its 2G network.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint Nextel, meanwhile, have all pushed ahead with their own 4G deployment, using another variant called FD-LTE. Sprint and Clearwire have a deal to develop devices that can run on both versions of LTE, and Clearwire's CEO Eric Prusch said it wouldn't be difficult to build a 4G iPhone compatible on both Clearwire and Sprint's networks. Sprint is Clearwire's largest shareholder and wholesale customer, although it currently uses older 4G WiMax technology.