China Mobile, the world's biggest carrier, is expected to spend as much as 82 billion yuan (US$13.41 billion) to roll out what is touted to be the world's largest 4G network by the end of 2014.
According to a report by Nanfang Daily last week, the operator said during the Global Partner Conference that by this time next year, it will invest 50 billion yuan (US$8.18 billion) on 500,000 base stations and other infrastructure expenses. Its customers in Beijing, Shanghai, and 14 other cities will have 4G access by end-2013, while another 340 cities will be connected by the end of next year, said China Mobile CEO Xi Guohua. The operator in May had initiated large-scale 4G trials in Shanghai, where it built 1,000 base stations to cover the Inner Ring region.
Xi added that China Mobile was forecasting to sell over 100 million pieces of LTE terminals, which will likely be heavily subsidized.
"The huge terminal subsidy provided by China Mobile played an critical role in the skyrocketing 3G smartphone market in 2013," said Yang Qun, analyst at a consultancy group. He estimated the operator would spend 32 billion yuan (US$5.23 billion) in the new year, compared with 27 billion (US$4.42 billion) in 2013. Total spending in its 4G rollout is anticipated to hit 82 billion yuan (US$13.41 billion).
To cater to growing market demand, Huawei vowed to invest more on its LTE devices. It rival smartphone maker, ZTE, revealed plans to launch its 4G terminals in the first quarter of 2014 with a pricetag of only 1,000 yuan (US$163.56), according to Ye Weimin, ZTE's senior vice president.
International handset manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, and Sony also showcased their models for upcoming 4G networks in China at the Global Partner Conference.
With its ageing network, China Mobile had lost quite a number of loyal customers to rivals China Unicom and China Telecom. Having announced its LTE plans as the company's strategic development priorities, China Mobile seems to have gained the upper hand this time.