Our Wireless Device Strategies (WDS) service recently published a report : China LTE Phone Sales Will Rocket to 135 Million Units in 2014. In there, we predict China Mobile will concentrate on three-mode and five-mode LTE cellphones this year. China Mobile has since reported a shift back toward five cellular modes (TD-LTE / FD-LTE / WCDMA / TD-SCDMA / GSM) for all customized and procured LTE phones via China Mobile's operator channels from June 2014 onwards. We have confirmed this move with China Mobile.
We believe the shift to five-mode phones will slow down LTE handset prices penetrating down below the RMB 600 level this year. However, three-mode (TD-LTE / TD-SCDMA / GSM) LTE handsets will continue to be available via open channels (e.g. Gome), and make up a meaningful portion of open-channel LTE volumes in 2014.
The shift will also resolve the roaming issues for end-users and save some R&D costs for device vendors. Qualcomm and Marvell will benefit from the move. Both are among the key LTE chipset suppliers for China's LTE market at this moment. However, local chipset makers, such as Spreadtrum, may face some headwinds from it.
Apple and Samsung remain major 4G handset suppliers in China at the moment -- however, we expect leading local players, such as Huawei, ZTE, Coolpad and Lenovo, will play an increasing role in this fast-growing market. Meanwhile, second-tier and third-tier local brands, such as Tianyu, Hisense, Gionee, Vivo, OPPO and Changhong, are likely to be aggressive challengers in the LTE segment later this year and worth keeping an eye on.