LIVE FROM BROADBAND ASIA, SINGAPORE: Chinese network vendor ZTE believes the mobile broadband market is still a big growth opportunity, citing rollout in China and the increasing importance of software as two major potential revenue drivers.

The company’s APAC CTO An Wei (pictured) talked up global subscriber growth of more than 20 per cent last year.

Only three billion people have broadband connections, “so we still have a long way to go,” An (pictured) stated during a presentation today. “The time it takes to pass each additional billion is getting shorter and shorter.”

But, he noted, there are still more than four billion people worldwide who are not connected to the internet.

Chinese potential
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced in late April that operators need to add another 600,000 4G base stations this year to improve broadband speeds. The ministry was responding to criticism from Premier Li Keqiang that the country’s mobile internet was expensive and slow.

An, who is CTO for the vendor’s carrier group, told Mobile World Live that China is now using mobile broadband to help drive growth as the economy slows.

China’s mobile infrastructure spending last year jumped 51 per cent to $11.1 billion as the country’s three mobile operators aggressively build out their 4G networks after receiving licences in late 2013, according to Infonetics Research.

China Mobile surpassed its own target of TD-LTE rollouts, ending the year with 720,000 TD-LTE base stations.

Last year ZTE supplied nearly 40 per cent of China’s 4G base stations, An said, adding that it still sees growth momentum for the next one to two years. One in four 4G base stations shipped globally last year was from ZTE.

He said that once spending on mobile infrastructure slows in China, domestic vendors will shift their focus to FTTH as the government pushes to expand the country’s fibre footprint to rural areas.

And as the industry adopts NFV (network function virtualisation) and SDN (software defined networks) to improve efficiency, he said operators have to shift from being hardware centric in design and maintenance to being software centric.

“Only about 1 per cent of telco staff are now focused on software. As hardware becomes more generic and operators can plug in different applications as they move to network virtualisation, they need to undergo an organisation and mindset shift,” he said.

He noted that in the US operators like AT&T are hiring a lot of people with software skills in SDN and NFV. “Chinese operators are fully aware of the impact [of a software focus], and have a long way to go but are gaining momentum.”