China's 4G Wireless Network Is Exploding -- Here's Who Wins

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- China is the world's biggest market for many things. Now, that includes fourth-generation wireless service, or 4G.

The number of 4G wireless-enabled users has jumped over the past two years and is expected to reach 400 million people in the coming months, the state-run China Daily reported this month. China's latest wireless generation began taking shape in 2013 after more than a decade of planning.

The growth of 4G, which allows faster data transfers, is boosting traffic at major Chinese telecom firms, many of which are listed on U.S. stock exchanges. The growth is also spreading to smartphone vendors and mobile content providers.

Perhaps the biggest winner is the country's biggest wireless carrier, China Mobile  (CHL) . The company was forced to use a weaker 3G standard compared to its competitors, causing a decline in business.

But then it upgraded to the same 4G standard as its two major rivals, China Telecom (CHA) and China Unicom (CHU) , and has done intensive marketing.

China Mobile was leading the 4G market with more than 200 million subscribers as of August, part of 277 million total users, China Daily said. 

"This restored China Mobile's advantage," said Mark Natkin, managing director with high-tech market research firm Marbridge Consulting in Beijing. "China Mobile has been very aggressively promoting its 4G services, both in terms of general awareness marketing and in terms of handset subsidies." China Mobile declined to comment for this report.

The total 4G-enabled population rose 65% over last year, the state paper said, attributing popularity to the quality of Chinese wireless standards. China's 3G is also notoriously slow.

China's content providers that depend on Internet speeds for business will also should see new traffic. That's big for Internet portal Sina.com  (SINA) and Internet, mobile app and media company Tencent  (TCEHY) .

Internet-based chat services such as Tencent's QQ may even take text messaging and call business away from the carriers, said Danny Levinson, a Beijing-based technology angel investor.

"Applied revenue for SMS at the carriers has continued to decline over the years, with chat apps that work even better in faster speeds overtaking those carriers' legacy services," Levinson said. Mobile carriers will still pick up business on the whole, he added.

Smartphone vendors with models optimized for 4G wireless or sold by carriers with 4G packages should get another lift.

Sales of 4G smartphones have grown at about 40 million a month, along with the amount of mobile data traffic, China Daily said, quoting the president of the government think tank China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Among the hotter 4G-enabled smartphones sold in China are the Lenovo (LNVGY) Sisley S90 model and the Redmi Note by Chinese vendor Xiaomi.

"China is a mobile-centric market and society," said Richard Robinson, president of Beijing-based app developer Yolu. "With long commute times, expanding work and leisure time around mobile devices and apps and services, users will pay a premium to access these services faster."

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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