China Mobile more than doubled its 4G connections in Q4, reporting 90 million 4G connections just a year after it was granted a TD-LTE licence, helping take the country’s total LTE connections base past the 100 million mark.
The market leader, with 806 million total mobile connections, added 39 million new connections in 2014 – a 5 per cent increase, which is slightly higher than the entire industry’s 4.67 per cent growth rate last year. China now has almost 1.3 billion mobile connections.
China Mobile had 40 million 4G connections at the end of September and expects to have 117 million in Q1, according to GSMA Intelligence.
China Telecom and China Unicom, meanwhile, together have 10 million 4G connections.
Unicom’s 4G connections also more than doubled to 6.3 million during the period, and it aims to have 14 million in Q1. Its total mobile connections rose 6.4 million to 299 million.
Telecom’s 4G connections almost tripled to 3.7 million during the quarter. Its Q1 target is 8.6 million 4G connections. The country’s smallest operator, which had a small net gain in total connections after being down 5.5 million connections in July, closed the year with 185.6 million mobile connections. GSMA Intelligence forecasts it will add four million mobile connections this quarter.
The two operators, which only have a licence to run so-called hybrid FDD-TDD trials in 56 cities, have been at a huge disadvantage to China Mobile, which has been able to rapidly expand its TD-LTE network nationwide since December 2013. China Mobile said it aimed to roll out 700,000 4G base stations by the end of last year.
The country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in mid-December approved requests from Telecom and Unicom to expand their hybrid LTE network trials to an additional 15 cities, giving them licences to operate FDD-LTE services in the 56 markets. In early November the MIIT reportedly was preparing to issue full nationwide FDD-LTE network licences in 2014, but there has so far been no follow-up.