The company is looking for moreopportunities to expand overseas
BARCELONA, Spain - China Mobile Ltd, the world's biggest phone carrier by market value, said it's seeking partners to bid for network licenses overseas to share the risks of global expansion.
"China Mobile should be an international player," Li Zhengmao, a vice-president at parent company China Mobile Communications Corp, said in an interview at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday.
Partnerships may be a less risky alternative for China Mobile than the full acquisition of an existing operator, Li said. China Mobile is looking for opportunities to expand abroad as the company faces the slowest revenue growth in its 13 years as a public company.
China Mobile's revenue rose an estimated 7 percent to 484 billion yuan ($73 billion) last year, according to the average estimate of 29 analysts compiled by Bloomberg. That would be the slowest increase since the company's 1997 Hong Kong listing, and the analysts estimate growth will keep decelerating through 2013.
The operator first expanded overseas in 2007 when parent company China Mobile Communications bought Pakistan's Paktel Ltd.
China Mobile has also said it is seeking opportunities for investments or partnerships to speed the global adoption of a Chinese-developed fourth-generation mobile system called TD-LTE. Long-term evolution, the high-speed mobile Internet standard used by AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless in the United States, will become the dominant fourth-generation network technology worldwide by 2012, IHS ISuppli forecast this month.
"We will aim to expand in emerging markets first, but any projects that would help our development of TD-LTE technology will definitely be considered," China Mobile Chairman Wang Jianzhou said in an interview last month in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum.
The international rollout of fourth-generation networks, which began in the US last year, is proceeding faster than in China, where the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said last month commercialization of the new technology won't begin before the middle of next year.
Mobile phone operators worldwide are upgrading networks to meet rising demand for high-speed data services. Internet traffic over mobile devices will increase 26-fold by 2015, driven by consumers watching video on smartphones and tablet computers, Cisco Systems Inc, the largest provider of computer networking gear, forecast this month.
In Barcelona on Monday, China Mobile announced the formation of the Global TD-LTE Initiative to promote development of the technology. Softbank Corp, Vodafone Group Plc and Bharti Airtel Ltd are among international companies that will cooperate on the development of China's TD-LTE technology standard for fourth-generation mobile services, China Mobile said.
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The rollout of 4G services in China is being held up by still-low adoption rates for third-generation networks. The country granted the first licenses for 3G wireless networks that allow mobile phones to surf the Web in 2009.
China had 859 million mobile phone subscribers at the end of last year, yet only 47 million, or 5.5 percent, had upgraded to 3G services by the end of 2010, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in January.
The ministry gave China Mobile approval in December to begin large-scale tests of its 4G TD-LTE network in the cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xiamen. Those tests will take 18 months, the ministry said in January.
Li said on Monday the company is holding trials of the 4G network to assess different equipment vendors. The company will expand the network in the second half of the year as part of those tests, he said.