Unicom trialling TD-LTE alongside FDD

China Unicom has stated its intentions of trialling TD-LTE technology alongside the more popular FDD LTE. The operator will begin its trial in the latter half of 2013, as China prepares for 4G licensing.

Unicom chairman and CEO Chang Xiebing noted that the trial would not be especially extensive, saying “We will mainly focus on the provincial capital cities as well as the coastal cities. But we will be well prepared for the FDD-LTE network construction, and we believe that the government and the regulators have very clear requirements for us.”

The move appears to be anticipating that the Chinese 4G licensing process will favour ‘home-grown’ technologies over international ones, as was the case for TD-SCDMA technology for China Mobile. If the 4G licensing process follows the same pattern then permits for TD-LTE will be issued ahead of FDD-LTE.

Unicom has had success adopting more globally widespread standards, including WCDMA for 3G, and will continue this strategy while embracing Chinese-made tech.

Chang stated: “We are going to work very seriously on our WCDMA construction work and actively promote the evolution of WCDMA to FDD-LTE. This is our long term strategy, and there won’t be any wavering on this issue. At the same time, due to the trend of the mobile internet evolution to support indigenous innovation, and at the same time taking into account the synergy of spectrum resources, starting from the second half China Unicom is planning to deploy and construct a pilot in TD-LTE networks in certain regions and areas.”

While the TD-LTE strain is less widespread internationally, it is by no means unsupported and has gained ground in Japan with SoftBank and India with Bharti Airtel. It forms a key part of China Mobile’s strategy – the operator has conducted several trials and is expected to migrate its 3G TD-SCDMA technology to TD-LTE once it receives a 4G licence.

The technology is likely to become more widespread due to the work of the operator group the Global TD-LTE Initiative (GTI), which is pushing interoperability with FDD-LTE in order to allow both strains to coexist.

According to figures from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), there are currently 200 live LTE networks, 182 of which are based on the FDD LTE strain. Only 9 use the TDD version exclusively, while the other nine use a combination of the two. If Unicom does deploy TD-LTE commercially, this would be a significant boon for the strain.

On the subject of licensing, Chang noted that: “There has been lost of news regarding the issue of 4G licences, and the central government is going to actually give us the decision shortly. So for China Unicom, we are going to work with the central government and make our due contributions.”

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