China to Expand 4G Wireless Trial as Licenses Are Being Prepared

China, the world’s largest smartphone market, will expand its trial of fourth-generation wireless networks as the nation moves closer to starting commercial service based on the technology, regulators said.

China is “preparing for the release of 4G licenses,” the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a statement today, without specifying a date.

“The ministry and the State Council are actively promoting this development, and the work is in process,” Zhu Jun, deputy director-general of the ministry’s Department of Telecommunication Development, said in Beijing today. “There is not much more news we can release at this time.”

China has been conducting trials of the high-speed wireless technology since December 2010. China Mobile Ltd., the world’s largest phone company by users, is looking to a rapid 4G rollout to stem the loss of market share to two smaller competitors. The carrier, which is expanding its trial this year to reach 100 cities and cover a population of 500 million people, has said licenses for the commercial service would be issued by year-end.

China issued licenses for 3G networks in 2009. While the nation has 1.21 billion wireless users, only about 368 million, or 30 percent, had made the shift to the 3G service as of the end of September, the ministry said in today’s statement.

The 3G network deployed by China Mobile used homegrown technology that hasn’t been supported by some handset makers, including Apple Inc. The carrier has said Apple may make an iPhone for its 4G network.

China Mobile is close to a deal to sell the iPhone, a person familiar with the matter said last month.

— With assistance by Edmond Lococo

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