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China's TD-LTE better chance of success

Pending 4G standard has better fighting chance of success compared to 3G predecessor, TD-SCDMA, due to wider global support, say experts.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

China's TD-LTE standard is unlikely to face the same obstacles that plagued the country's earlier mobile wireless standard, TD-SCDMA, industry analysts say.

China in October submitted TD-LTE specifications to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for approval as a 4G standard. If ratified, it will be officially recognized by the ITU as a 4G technology in October 2010, according to reports.

While the country's 3G predecessor, TD-SCDMA, got off to a bumpy start, dogged by technical issues and a lack of device variety, industry watchers are expecting TD-LTE to fare better.

Julian Bright, Informa telecoms and media analyst told ZDNet Asia that TD-LTE, as a variant of FDD-LTE (Frequency Division Duplex LTE), is technically similar to the global LTE standard meant for markets where TDD spectrum is more readily available. As such, "strictly speaking, TD-LTE is not a new 4G standard", he said.

In comparison, TD-SCDMA was developed largely for the domestic market, he noted. Apart from the technical problems and delays, this standard has also been slow to gain traction among vendors outside China, Bright said in an e-mail.

TD-LTE, on the other hand, is "an international standard [with the] full backing of the 3GPP (3G Partnership Project)", catering to markets that have limited TDD spectrum and putting it on pace with FDD-LTE in terms of standards development activities. "Both versions of LTE are expected to reach standardization in parallel," he said.

Ted Dean, president and managing director of China-based IT advisory firm, BDA, said in a phone interview that TD-LTE and FDD-LTE are both in early stages of development, giving the two standards more equal footing.

In addition, TD-SCDMA was "working out bugs that [competing standard] WCDMA had already worked out five years before", he explained.

While some had said during the launch of TD-SCDMA that the sheer size of China's mobile market is sufficient for a standard to flourish, Dean noted that device and consumer support were more important, compared to the size of the country.

"China's a big market, but so is Europe, and so on... Government support is not the be-all. Technology is driven by what consumers choose," he said.

Using TD-SCDMA as an example, he said its lack of success in China has been a result of consumers flocking to devices on the more mature WCDMA standard.

"WCDMA has been in the market for years. The tech ecosystem has had years to flourish," Dean said. "There is a WCDMA iPhone, but no TD-SCDMA iPhone."

TD-LTE, on the other hand, has garnered support from operators such as Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, giving it a more "international start" compared to its predecessor, he said.

Money, money, money
John Strand, CEO of Strand Consult, sees TD-LTE as merely an economical decision.

China's impetus to support its own standard stems from a desire to stimulate the Chinese telecoms market and to limit the royalty payments to international patent holders such as the Nokias, Ericssons and Qualcomms, Strand noted in an e-mail interview.

Chinese support of its own mobile wireless standards will also limit the success of foreign competitors in the country, he said. "We do not believe that the 'TD' solutions have any chance in markets not controlled by China," he added.

Informa's Bright said he expects TD-SCDMA to emerge as China's leading 3.5G+ technology by end-2014. He attributed this to the country's largest mobile carrier, China Mobile's large 2G subscription base, which is assumed to upgrade to 3.5G eventually, and the strong government support given to TD-SCDMA.

Strand said: "Simply put, 'TD' is not about technology, it is about money, money and money."

The ITU could not be reached by press time.

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