Wireless infrastructure spending by the mainland's three telecommunications network operators will top the US$11-billion mark in three years, driven by new 4G mobile investments.
China Mobile, the world's largest wireless network operator by number of subscribers, is expected to lead that record capital outlay, according to a report by market research firm IHS iSuppli.
The Hong Kong-listed carrier, which had 667.19 million subscribers at the end of March, has spearheaded the adoption and testing of TD-LTE (time-division long-term evolution) technology, the high-speed 4G standard backed by the mainland.
The other recognised 4G standard, commercially deployed in other markets worldwide, is known as FDD (frequency division duplexing) LTE. The advanced 4G networks have theoretical internet download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, faster than what 3G networks provide.
IHS iSuppli forecast total wireless infrastructure spending on the mainland will reach US$11.2 billion in 2014, as operators ramp up 4G mobile investments. That would be a significant increase from the estimated US$10 billion in wireless network spending next year and US$9.9 billion this year.
Commercial trials of China Mobile's pilot 4G network on the mainland are expected to be completed this June, which may coincide with the possible release of a compatible iPhone from Apple.
China Mobile is now the lone major carrier on the mainland without a deal to sell iPhones on the mainland.
Miao Wei, who heads the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told China Central Television last month it may take two to three years before the mainland issued 4G licences.
Miao said the government wanted to double the number of mobile-base stations on the mainland-backed 3G standard, called TD-CDMA (time division-synchronous code division multiple access), before issuing new 4G licences.
China Mobile operates a TD-SCDMA 3G network with about 200,000 base stations. Most of its subscribers are still on its vast 2G network based on the GSM (global system for mobile communications) standard.
The plan was to upgrade those TD-SCDMA base stations into TD-LTE within the next two to three years, according to Miao.
Zhao Hailin, an analyst at IHS iSuppli, said China Mobile's second phase of 4G trials, which started in October, had focused on testing dual-mode TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE network equipment and devices.
'This will allow China Mobile to practise large-scale commercial deployments and enhance its interconnection and interworking capability, such as roaming and handover, among different vendors' TD-LTE equipment and devices,' Zhao said.
From Wednesday this week China Mobile will start offering its 4G data service to subscribers in Hong Kong. The company is targeting an estimated 500,000 frequent travellers between the city and the mainland.
China Unicom, the country's No 2 wireless network operator, runs a 3G network based on the mature wideband code division multiple access standard.
The 3G network of China Telecom is based on the standard called CDMA2000 1x EV-DO (evolution data-optimised).