China Mobile Invites Bids for 4G Handsets Purchase

China Mobile Ltd., the world’s biggest phone company by subscribers, said it has invited bids for the first large-scale purchase of handsets for its trial fourth-generation network.

The company met with suppliers at the China Mobile Terminal Industry Chain Summit in Beijing yesterday to discuss development of the 3G market and trials of the new 4G system, Rainie Lei, a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for the carrier, said in an e-mail today. The China Daily today reported the carrier will seek 200,000 4G handsets and data cards in the fourth quarter, a figure Lei said she couldn’t confirm.

The company is counting on the move to a 4G network, based on technology known as TD-LTE, to stem the decline in its market share of users who watch videos and play games on their phones. Its homegrown 3G network left it unable to offer popular handsets, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, which is now available from both China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. and China Telecom Corp.

In the second half of this year, China Mobile will expand its 4G trial to 20,000 base stations in 13 cities, from seven cities in the first half, according to a presentation posted on the carrier’s website. That expansion will provide 90 percent coverage in key areas of Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the company said at the time.

By next year, the carrier plans to expand the trial to 200,000 4G base stations.

While China Mobile’s total mobile subscriber base of 693 million users in August represented 65 percent of the market, its 72 million users of high-speed 3G networks accounted for just 38 percent of that market, according to data the company released last week.

China Mobile fell 0.3 percent to HK$85.95 in Hong Kong trading, paring the stock’s gains this year to 13 percent.

China Mobile already operates a 4G network in Hong Kong, and offers smartphones there including ZTE Corp.’s Grand X LTE (T82); Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy SII; HTC Corp.’s One XL; and LG Electronics Inc.’s Optimus True.

— With assistance by Edmond Lococo

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