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Entries in China Telecom (15)


China swaps out 'scum' telco bosses

Beijing has just swapped around its telco chiefs. Two have done a direct swap and the third has retired, replaced by a government official to take over the third operator.

As China’s economic management comes under global scrutiny, it’s a neat illustration of how it sees the game differently from the rest of the world.

Under the changes, Chang Xiaobing is the now chairman and party secretary at China Telecom, positions he previously held at China Unicom. Former China Telecom chief Wang Xiaochu replaces him at Unicom.

Over at China Mobile, the new man is Shang Bing, previously a vice-minister at MIIT. He replicates the path followed by retiring Xi Guohua, who moved to the operator from the MIIT in 2011, taking over as chairman in 2012.

The appointments were revealed in a series of announcements on Monday morning by the CCP Organisation Department – another key point: leadership posts in large and politically-sensitive SOEs are all CCP positions.

This isn't the first time the party has simultaneously rung the changes among the telco top tier. In 2004 it carried out a similar reshuffle in which, Unicom chairman Wang Jianzhou became China Mobile president, Shang Bing was promoted to Unicom president and China Telecom vice-president Chang Xiaobing became CU chairman and party secretary.

And why?

As a commentary in Sina Tech says, many analysts at that time thought the reshuffle would allow the chiefs to see the world through each other’s eyes and “avoid excessive competition.” Clearly the party bosses think it's been a success.

Punters think differently, however. The most popular comment under the most popular Sina story – focusing on China Mobile – declares: “You scum. All your packages are a fraud.”

The changes come on the heels of mediocre interim results. For all its dominance in 4G, China Mobile  earnings fell by nearly 1% and revenue rose just 4.9%. China Telecom’s net shrank 4% and only China Unicom showed improvement, with a 4.5% hike in income. No one is suggesting the leadership changes are intended to address any of the issues facing the three.

Final point: none of the new execs is female. All of the nine new appointees at China Mobile are male.


China Mobile abandons its $3b Wi-Fi network

Another consequence of China's tortuous path to 4G: China Mobile has all but abandoned its massive Wi-Fi hotspot network, while China Telecom plans to build one of its own.

China Mobile has found that its network of 4.3m hotspots, presumably the world’s largest, and deployed at a cost of 17bn yuan ($2.75b), is uneconomic.

Wireless data revenue across all of China Mobile’s networks last year rose 59%. But Wi-Fi data occupied an unsustainable 74% of all traffic, and generated a microscopic 2.6% of revenue.

The operator returned just 15 yuan per month from each Wi-Fi user - “not even enough for network optimisation, let alone ROI,” a Henan Mobile official in charge of Wi-Fi told Sohu IT.

The result is that China Mobile has cancelled further Wi-Fi construction and has cut back on optimisation and maintenance.

This comes as no surprise, given China Mobile’s well-documented difficulties with TD-SCDMA.  In fact it was the poor data performance of the local 3G technology that drove China Mobile into Wi-Fi in the first place.

But low-priced, widely-deployed Wi-Fi is also an attractive alternative to 4G, as early figures from China Mobile's 4G campaign suggest. To the end of April it had sold 14m TD-LTE handsets but fewer than 4m of these had upgraded to 4G.

Sohu IT also points to an unhealthy skewing of the Wi-Fi rollout to a handful of provinces. For some reason, China Mobile’s Shandong unit has installed more than 1m hotspots, Shanxi 560,000 and Henan 400,000 - three provinces with less than a fifth the population accounting for 46% of the installed base.

In light of the poor returns from Wi-Fi, China Mobile is going all-out for TD-LTE and has forecast it will have rolled out 500,000 base stations in 300 cities by year-end.

Yet while 4G has driven China Mobile out of Wi-Fi, it is an accelerant for China Telecom. Chairman Wang Xiaochu said in an interview last month that he is planning to step up Wi-Fi investment.

That’s because the operator is being held back from deploying its preferred brand of 4G, FDD, while its cdma EVDO network is no match for either LTE or China Unicom’s HSPA services.

China Telecom has been issued with a ‘trial’ FDD licence, but for just 16 cities – a long way short of the 300 it’s hoping to reach nationwide. In that light, Wi-Fi makes some sense, yet it's hard to see how China Telecom can avoid the same problems besetting China Mobile once its FDD network gets up to speed.

The best solution would be for a third party to take China Mobile's Wi-Fi network off its hands and wholesale it to the big three or any of the new MVNOs. Ranking 96th in world global broadband speed rankings, you'd think China couldn't afford to allow infrastructure to go to waste. In fact, duplication and waste appear to be the order of the day.


Not so fast: FDD licences revisited

This blog pleads guilty to a mild bout of irrational exuberance over the issue of FDD-LTE trial licences on Friday.

For sure the licences give China Telecom and China Unicom the chance to build out FDD in 16 cities. But in each case only two of those cities are tier-1, and it's telling that Beijing is not one of them.

Plus, as Sina Tech notes, the wording of the MIIT announcement is revealing, repeatedly declaring that these were "LTE network integration trials," just to make sure that the trial deployments would include TD-LTE and not just the much-preferred FDD flavour.

So the allocation of the licences is signficant, but the detail suggests the MIIT is not in a hurry to open the gates to full nationwide FDD rollout. TD, the national champion, gets precedence.

FDD is a big deal for the two operators because, to quote Sina again, competing with China Mobile on TD alone is a "dead-end street."

On the other hand, Telecom and Unicom execs will no doubt be planning to take advantage of the hazy definition of just what is an FDD base station or terminal, and just how vigilantly the MIIT will police it. A report at IT Sohu suggests that many of the networks will become "underground FDD" systems - operating commercially under the cover of a TD licence. That wouldn't be the first time in China telecoms.


FDD rollout cities

China Telecom: Lanzhou, Xian, Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Chongqing, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanning, Hefei, Nanchang, Haikou.

China Unicom: Harbin, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Jinan, Taiyuan, Zhengzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Changsha, Guangzhou, Shenzhen.



China Telecom, China Unicom get their FDD licences 

China's MIIT today issued China Telecom and China Unicom their long-awaited FDD-LTE licences.

Officially the new permits are 'trial licences' for 16 cities to test out FDD-TDD integration. However, precedent suggests the two operators will face few obstacles in upgrading to full commercial service in the next 12 or so months.

Both Telecom and Unicom have been reluctantly pressed into building out 4G using the government-backed TD standard. The first 4G licences, issued last December, specified TD only.

China Mobile has embraced TD-LTE because of the limited acceptance of its TD-SCDMA 3G system. It claims it will have built out a TD network in 300 cities by year-end.

China Telecom has said it would use TD for no more than 30% of its coverage, and primarily in high-density urban areas.

China Unicom has been the slowest to upgrade to 4G because of its desire to extract more value from its W-CDMA network and did not call its first LTE tender until last December.

The go-ahead for FDD will have no impact on vendor contracts and will probably mean little material change in network rollouts. Both companies are still in the early stage of deploying 4G and will have already developed FDD plans ahead of the licence issue.


Chinese operators get into bed with WeChat

Chinese operators – well, two of them anyway – have bowed to the inevitable and are striking deals with popular messaging service WeChat.

The pathbreaker is China Unicom, which is to announce a partnership in Guangzhou this afternoon.

China Telecom is also said to be prepping a service which would give users 2GB of WeChat and Sina weibo data for just 6 yuan (0.98) a month.

Both partnerships will take place in Guangdong, the wealthy southern province, and have a flavour of ‘suck it and see’ as operators test out the cooperative approach to dealing with OTT.

Missing from the party is China Mobile, which early this year skirmished with Tencent, the company behind WeChat, complaining the service was using up valuable network resources.

Rumours swirled that WeChat would be forced to charge its 300m users but, as this blog pointed out at the time, it was only China Mobile that had a problem, thanks to its under-powered 3G network. Plus it was unlikely that a newly-installed government would make itself so gratuitously unpopular.

The washup of that imbroglio is that the two smaller operators have gone over to the ‘enemy’ while China Mobile is on its own.  

According to Sohu IT, China Unicom is offering WeChat Wo for WeChat data at 15 yuan a month for those already with a minimum 36-yuan monthly package. (Wo is Unicom’s mobile data service.)

WeChat Wo will come with HD photos and HD movies, some free games, and the ability to support Unicom’s Wo payment feature. If all goes well in Guangdong, Unicom is hoping for quick expansion into other southern provinces such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian.

For the operator, this is an important ‘ice-breaker’ in forging cooperation with OTT players, a Unicom source told Sohu IT. For Tencent, it is a chance to grow the business with a strong partner with a deep channel. Tencent chief Pony Ma reportedly played a direct role in the negotiations.

Such OTT partnerships are new to mainland China, but they’ve been in the Hong Kong market since last year. Hutchison launched a WhatsApp bundle last September, while PCCW has been selling a WeChat package since February.

Meanwhile, China Mobile is trying to go it alone with messaging app Fetion and Skype-like voice application Jego. Embarrassingly it had to pull Jego from the domestic market just after launch because mobile VoIP is still illegal in China.

Yet this won't trouble China Mobile. It's still working the old playbook, focusing on networks, not apps. At year-end, while Telecom and Unicom are planning their LTE networks, it will be racking up 4G subs.