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China to Further Expand its Trial of 4G Wireless Network in 2013

China will expand its two-year-old trial of fourth-generation mobile networks this year after making “very good” progress in 2012, a government official said.

China is “actively promoting” the 4G network trial, Zhang Feng, director of the telecommunications development department at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said today at a briefing in Beijing. He didn’t give a time frame for when the ministry will issue 4G licenses.

“Looking at the experimental results, the whole progress has been very good,” Zhang said without elaborating. “The next step in 4G development will be determined according to the test situation.”

China Mobile Ltd. (941), the nation’s largest operator, is counting on the move to a 4G network to stem its declining market share among users who watch videos and play games on their phones. The company is unable to support Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhones among other handsets on its existing 3G network as it uses a homegrown technology.

China Mobile’s share of wireless subscribers declined to 64 percent at the end of December, from 66.6 percent a year earlier. Its share of high-speed third-generation subscribers fell to 37.7 percent, from 40.2 percent in the same period. China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. (762) and China Telecom Corp. (728), the nation’s second and third-largest carriers, both offer iPhones.

The new 4G networks are based on TD-LTE technology. China Mobile Communications Corp., the state-owned parent of China Mobile, finished first-phase trials of the system in six cities with 850 base stations in September 2011.

The trial was expanded to seven cities in the first half of last year and it was due to reach 20,000 base stations in 13 cities in the following six months. This year, the program was expected to reach 200,000 base stations, China Mobile said in August.

Data traffic over the carrier’s wireless networks surged 61 percent from a year earlier in the first nine months of last year to 626 billion megabytes, the company said in October. The increase was driven by services including downloads of videos and e-books, it said.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Edmond Lococo in Beijing at elococo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net

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