After all of the turmoil surrounding the introduction of 3G, it may be too soon to start anticipating the appearance of 4G in China. But while TD-SCDMA has been seen primarily as a standard-bearer for homegrown 3G technology, it also lays the groundwork for China’s eventual upgrade to TD-LTE.
Wang Jing, secretary general of the TD Forum, an organization set up by telecom firms to promote the development of TD-SCDMA, describes as TD-LTE as "3.9G" – one step away from true 4G.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in October that it would fully support TD-LTE-Advanced, based on TD-LTE, as a global 4G standard, putting it in competition with 3GPP’s LTE-Advanced and the IEEE’s 802.16m. TD-LTE is certainly in China’s future, but Wang notes that a new standard requires time to build up the supply chain, test equipment, and overcome technical hurdles. "You can’t skip that learning curve," he said.
Evolutions of WCDMA and TD-SCDMA both offer flavors of 4G, giving China Unicom and China Mobile a place at the table when the first 4G trials occur. The date of these trials is still distant; Meiqin Fang, an analyst at telecom consultancy BDA China, estimates they will come in 2012 at the earliest. CDMA2000 offers no clear path to 4G, so even as China Telecom carves out a niche in 3G, its long-term prospects are more circumspect.
In leveraging its experience with TD-SCDMA, China is hoping to assure global vendors of the feasibility of a TD-LTE standard. And just as TD-SCDMA was part of Beijing’s long-term plan to escape foreign patent royalties, TD-LTE offers a new endgame in which Chinese technology may become dominant.
"What they want is for TD-LTE to be the world standard," said Bertram Lai, an analyst at CIMB-GK Securities.