China's top telecom regulator said on Thursday that the country plans to adopt the commercial use of fourth-generation (4G) technology "in three to five years", providing the first official timetable for China's move to the next generation telecom service.
Miao Wei, minister of industry and information technology, told China Daily at the ongoing National People's Congress meeting that "it will still take three to five years" before China will begin large-scale commercial use of the 4G service.
He denied that China will "soon" adopt the technology and stated that the country would not launch a national commercial 4G service until 2014.
4G, which can provide a connection speed more than 50 times faster than the current third generation (3G) network, is regarded as the next growth engine for the world telecom market, as it can draw huge investment in network construction and services development.
During the past few years, China has been actively trying to have its home-grown technology TD-LTE (Time Division-Long Term Evolution) technology accepted as the global 4G standard. However, most Western operators and equipment manufacturers are supporting a different technology called FDD-LTE (Frequency Division Duplex-Long Term Evolution).
"Miao's comment was in line with our earlier estimate that China will not adopt 4G technology soon," said Wang Yuquan, a senior consultant with the research firm Frost & Sullivan in China.
Wang said China's slowness in upgrading to 4G is because the TD-LTE technology is still not fully mature. "It is also obvious that the Chinese government doesn't want to adopt a 4G service too soon as that would disrupt the carriers' efforts to develop 3G services," he said.
China launched the 3G service in 2009 and adopted three standards, including the home-grown technology TD-SCDMA, in the network construction. During the following years, Chinese carriers and the government poured billions of yuan into the construction and upgrading of the network.
According to figures from the ministry, China's 3G user numbers reached 47 million by the end of 2010, lower than the previous target of 60 million. The lack of affordable smartphones that support 3G services is regarded as a major reason for the underdevelopment.
In December, the ministry gave the green light for large-scale trials of TD-LTE networks in six cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Xiamen.
The ministry, which acts as telecom industry watchdog, also said in January that it plans to finish research and development of the TD-LTE network, and that handsets are expected by 2012.
Wang said China Mobile is likely to adopt the TD-LTE standard. "But it is also possible China will allow carriers to adopt a different standard."
Miao on Monday declined to comment on whether China will allow multiple technologies in its 4G network construction.