Some of the 1,300 Shanghai residents who tested the new 4G service, which provides mobile users Internet access 20 to 50 times faster than the current 3G network, offered varied opinions.
The faster speed is great but limited data traffic and the lack of device offerings are drawbacks, they say.
“I like the feeling of flying (the speed) because I hate waiting,” said Wei Zhong, an IT website editor, who uses the MiFi (a portable device transferring 4G signals to Wi-Fi), to share 4G signals for computers, iPad and several smartphones.
The new service may debut officially sometime around the beginning of next year as Shanghai Mobile, the local arm of China Mobile, wants to garner more feedback.
The 4G trial in the world’s biggest mobile phone market is a prelude to the adoption of the most advanced mobile technology, creating a multibillion-dollar market for telecommunications equipment and handsets.
After building a trial 4G network in 15 cities last year, China Mobile, the world’s biggest wireless carrier, said recently that it would expand it to 100 cities this year, with 200,000 base stations covering 500 million people.
Shanghai Mobile has built 1,000 base stations — 700 outdoors and 300 indoors — to cover the Inner Ring region. It will cover the whole city by the end of this year, according to Xu Da, Shanghai Mobile’s general manager.
Shanghai Mobile has said it would seek up to 5,000 users to test 4G products including MiFi routers, data cards and family-used routers based on TD-LTE (time division-long term evolution) technology, a domestic 4G technology.
For the next step, China Mobile will increase the variety of models and widen the 4G coverage.
Shanghai Daily also tested 4G devices for almost a month on speed, data package, coverage and device features.
The tested gadgets included a 4G MiFi made by Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, a 4G SIM card provided by Shanghai Mobile, an iPhone 5, an iPad and several laptop computers.
Shanghai Mobile’s 4G products provide real download speeds from 10 to 15 megabits per second, compared with about one megabit of the fastest 3G network, according to Shanghai Daily’s test and that of IT website CNET China.
A song can be downloaded within seconds and a film within one or two minutes on mobile devices. E-mails can be downloaded and updated within one or two seconds. High-quality image online video contents on Youku or Sohu can be played smoothly.
Each 4G test user is given 15 gigabytes of Internet traffic every month for free, until the test ends in February.
The monthly data capacity of 15 GB is not enough for high-speed services like film downloads on mobile devices, which should be upgraded to 80 GB or more, according to Shanghai Daily’s test.
The size of a high definition movie is about one to two gigabytes. It means 4G users can watch only about seven HD movies a month.
4G signal coverage
The 4G network is now available within the Inner Ring region of Shanghai, including People’s Square, Xujiahui and Nanjing Road. It also covers bus routes No. 49 and No. 926, which cross downtown areas.
But the signal is lost in most indoor buildings in Shanghai. The 4G speed drops dramatically in a moving environment, like in car or bus, according to Shanghai Daily’s test.
“I can’t use it in airports and railway stations,” said another 4G tester surnamed Lin. “That’s a disaster for me because I am often on business trips.”
China Mobile recently said the network will cover more regions and bus routes, including the Bund, and will offer test users more Internet data traffic.
Lack of 4G Devices
The 4G MiFi's battery supports usage of up to two or three hours and requires a considerable time to fully recharge. Comparatively, a MacBook Air computer supports usage of seven hours.
The MiFi router is too big and “ugly” as a portable device, two female 4G users told Shanghai Daily.
Handsets using TD-LTE are also limited because the system is almost solely used in China. The most popular smartphones, like Apple’s iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy 4, don’t support TD-LTE now.
The most popular questions among testers and industry insiders relate to the timeline of 4G issuance, price and a possible iPhone for TD-LTE.
More than 44 LTE 4G networks have been established in 28 countries and regions, including Taiwan and Hong Kong. China Mobiwle’s 4G network will be the first on the mainland.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the industry regulator, said the country would issue 4G licenses by the end of this year, part of a national policy to encourage information consumption.
China Mobile hasn’t disclosed details about the price of its 4G service, but it has promised it won’t cost more than current 3G services.
Based on the current price of 1 MB data costing 0.1 yuan on average, the 15 GB (15,000 MB) would cost 1,500 yuan (US$312) a month, which is probably considered too steep for most consumers.
Some 4G test users say that a reasonable price for 4G service would be about 200 yuan a month.
The lack of an iPhone supporting 3G and the coming 4G makes China Mobile less competitive, compared with China Unicom and China Telecom, especially for high-end consumers which have a huge demand for data services.
Apple is still discussing with China Mobile, amid expectations that its latest iPhone will support China Mobile's 4G network, Xi Guohua, China Mobile's chairman, said recently.
The combination of a faster 4G network and the smooth Internet experience of the iPhone would greatly boost Apple’s market share in China and help China Mobile regain high-end users, according to researchers, including Morgan Stanley.
Samsung, in partnership with China Mobile, launched the Galaxy Note 2 device last week in Beijing. The device supports China’s 4G technology.