By Scott Cendrowski, writer
FORTUNE -- Forget the breathless coverage of China Mobile offering the iPhone for a moment. Yes, it's huge news for China's biggest wireless carrier and Apple (AAPL) -- and we've heard plenty to the point. But the real game changer for China is another mobile milestone that's nearly as imminent: the rollout of the faster wireless network standard 4G.
People elsewhere in the world take 4G for granted. I should know -- I once did. After 4G came to New York, my smartphone became faster than my PC. I watched Netflix (NFLX) on my iPhone. Google Maps (GOOG) search was instantaneous. Newspapers downloaded in seconds.
Not so in China. Here, 3G still rules. I moved to Beijing this year, and the downgrade from 4G to 3G was brutal. The same apps weren't the same. Google Maps? Acceptable, but not great. Apple Newsstand: painfully slow. Yahoo Fantasy Football (YHOO) ... well, just don't wait to set your rosters.
The 4G rollout in China has progressed in fits and stops. China Mobile (CHL) announced in 2012 that it would upgrade its systems to TD-LTE, a 4G standard, only to be rebuffed by government officials who worried the technology was not mature enough for the market. Delays ensued. 4G was wait-listed until now.
Last week, China took the official step of granting 4G licenses to the three big state-owned carriers, China Mobile, a giant among giants with 60% of China's mobile market, China Unicom (CHU), second-largest with little over 20% share, and No. 3 China Telecom (CHA). The 4G switch is flipped on Dec. 18, when big cities will fire up the new network. (In a nod to the potential 4G offers, the Party has turned supportive. There's little talk from carriers about the cost of licenses from the government, compared to the Western world where carriers spend tens of billions on new spectrum.)
Insiders say by mid-2014, the country should be far along in adopting 4G. I met one of those insiders last night at a press event for Huawei, the Chinese maker of telecom equipment that is now competing in smartphones and tablets. (Hence, the press mixer. The company previously had little need for reporters because of its business-to-business focus.)
Qiu Heng is TDD Network Vice President at Huawei, part of the company's 4G team. I asked Heng what's been the most difficult part of China's 4G rollout, seeing as it's coming three years after 4G was adopted in the U.S. and Japan. He thinks about it for a moment. "There has been no difficulty," he says. This sounds improbable, and it is.
But it's true that Huawei has worked out the 4G kinks in its equipment in Japan. The 4G release in China, now that it's been officially sanctioned, should be smooth, despite the massive numbers involved. China Mobile, for instance, needs to upgrade more than 200,000 base stations. (Heng points out the U.S. and Japan combined have 150,000 stations.) Software upgrades and minor hardware modifications to existing stations are enough to support 4G using Huawei's technology. Reports put China Mobile's cost of station upgrades at $3 billion.
This is a game changer, Heng says. For the first time Chinese consumers will be able to consistently watch video on their phones. Mobile shopping, already popular, should grow faster with faster speeds. Media, entertainment, and other commerce should all experience a new era in China.
Bigger than the iPhone release, I ask Heng? He nods his head yes.
The world's largest carrier is recruiting "pioneers" for a 4G pilot project that starts Dec. 18.
FORTUNE -- If you're looking to signs that China Mobile (CHL) is getting set to start offering its 740 million subscribers iPhones -- and what Apple (AAPL) investor isn't? -- the carrier's website has been offering some strong hints. Take, for example, the attached promo that shows China Mobile customers communicating with a variety of MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 22, 2013 8:34 AM ET
The Korean giant wants to deliver 5G network technology by 2020.
By Peter Suciu
FORTUNE -- While many mobile phone users are still making calls, sending texts, and surfing the web over a 3G network and have yet to upgrade to a 4G handset, South Korean mobile phone maker Samsung says it has successfully developed the world's first adaptive array transceiver technology operating in the millimeter-wave Ka bands for communications -- MOREMay 16, 2013 11:55 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of tech stories from the last 24 hours. Sign up to get the round-up delivered to you each and every day.
* Google (GOOG) is seeking partnerships with automakers to eventually bring its self-driving car technology to real-world drivers. Though, the company still needs to conduct "millions of miles" of testing, and it may take another decade to bring to market. (The Wall Street Journal)
* One good thing to come out of MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Apr 26, 2012 3:30 AM ET
Offers full refunds rather than stop marketing the new iPad as "Wi-Fi + 4G"
The dispute down under that landed Apple (AAPL) in an Australian federal court Tuesday is a bit more complicated than initial reports suggested.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald's Lucy Battersby, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACC) contacted Apple on March 15 -- the day before the new iPad went on sale -- expressing concern about the name MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 28, 2012 6:36 AM ET
Most seem to be even more impressed with the latest tablet than the tech press was
RBC Capital's Mike Abramsky: 'New iPad' - Incremental? Really? We would argue it will maintain Apple's Tablet dominance, especially when considered in context with Apple's powerful ecosystem (iTunes, iTunes Store, iCloud, iOS, App Store, carrier/store distribution, etc)... The new iPad raises the performance bar, with the highest resolution screen on a tablet and the A5X processor MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 8, 2012 7:29 AM ET
After the reports of the past few days, is there any room left for surprise?
The latest details, with links:
Unveiling scheduled for March 7, release likely by March 9
2048×1536 "Retina" display (double the resolution of iPads 1 and 2)
Quad-core A-6 chip, perhaps replacing the dual-core chip in the current iPad
4G LTE Qualcomm (QCOM) chipset, signaling that the next iPhone will be 4G too
Still unknown: Where the unveiling will take place, at the MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 14, 2012 9:40 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of newsworthy tech stories from the weekend. Sign up to get the newsletter delivered to you every day.
* Late last night, Netflix (NFLX) announced via blog post that it is totally separating its DVD business from the streaming business and dubbing the former "Qwikster." Qwikster will be run by ex-Netflix exec Andy Rendich and will have separate user accounts, movie ratings and billing. Coming soon to the newly-christened service: Xbox 360, MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Sep 19, 2011 3:30 AM ET
The HTC Thunderbolt's Internet speed is not only faster than any other phone, it may be faster than your home wired Internet connection.
Verizon (VZ) launched its LTE 4G wireless service in the U.S. at the end of last year. Until last week however, the only way to tap into that superfast wireless network was to buy a USB dongle and plug it into your laptop.
That all changed with the MORESeth Weintraub - Mar 24, 2011 5:08 PM ET
Both are not entirely new or incredibly groundbreaking but are both interesting for the reasons outlined below.
AT&T (T) was first up today with the announcement of the Inspire 4G, the company's first 4G phone. As far as specs and aesthetics are concerned, it is pretty much on par with Sprint's (S) EVO 4G, with an 8 megapixel camera, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, a 4.3" screen, etc. The Inspire doesn't have a front-facing MORESeth Weintraub - Feb 2, 2011 12:52 AM ET
|GM's recalled Cobalt was a failure from the start|
|Why you should pay off your car loan ASAP|
|Americans have fallen in love with real estate once again|
|Lara Spencer promoted to 'Good Morning America' co-host|
|Michaels hack hit 3 million|