Chinese 4G licenses handed out, services to start soon
The Chinese government has finally issued 4G licenses (long anticipated) to China Mobile (CHL), China Unicom (CHU), and China Telecom (CHA), paving the way for commercial service launches to start.
China Mobile, which has already built out a giant "trial" 4G network, is set to have a 4G partner conference in two weeks that will reportedly feature an iPhone announcement. China Telecom says it will launch 4G services in Q1.
Notably, the licenses only cover 4G networks relying on the TD-LTE standard (allows for more capacity to be allocated to downlinks than uplinks, if carriers wish). China Unicom and Telecom both want to run networks using the FDD LTE standard, which is far more popular internationally, and say they still plan to request FDD LTE licenses in the future.
In addition to Apple, Chinese 4G launches are likely to benefit Qualcomm (QCOM). Whereas Qualcomm faces tough competition in the Chinese 3G baseband chip market (particularly on the low-end) and has had royalty collection issues for sales of phones running on China Mobile's TD-SCDMA 3G network, it has a dominant share of the global 4G baseband market, and hasn't had any major 4G collection issues.
Report: China to lift Facebook, Twitter bans within free-trade zone
In what could be a trial balloon, the Chinese government plans to lift its ban on "politically sensitive" foreign websites in Shanghai's new free-trade zone, according to government sources talking to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post. Facebook (FB +4.7%), Twitter, and the New York Times are among the sites that will reportedly be made accessible.
In addition, the government plans to allow foreign carriers to bid for licenses to provide Internet services in the free-trade zone. State-owned carriers China Mobile (CHL -0.8%), China Telecom (CHA -1.8%), and China Unicom (CHU -2.8%) have all reportedly been informed foreign companies will be able to compete with them in the area.
For now, the zone only covers 29 sq. km. But sources state it could eventually cover Shanghai's entire Pudong business district (1,210 sq. km), home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange and arguably China's most vital commercial hub.
The report comes shortly after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg met with Chinese Web regulators. China already has a well-developed social networking scene, with Tencent (TCEHY.PK) and SINA claiming hundreds of millions of registered users for their respective platforms.
Apple slides following China Unicom reservation data
China Unicom (CHU +0.6%) says its iPhone 5S/5C (AAPL -2.6%) reservations have topped 100K since it began taking them last week. Last year, Unicom took 200K+ iPhone 5 reservations in the phone's first two days of availability.
Meanwhile, China Telecom (CHA +2.5%) has cut its iPhone subsidies. A subscriber signing up for an RMB289/month ($47/month) plan will get an iPhone 5S subsidy of RMB2890, 15% less than the RMB3400 subsidy it provided for the iPhone 5. It's worth noting CHA's ARPU is below $10.
The Chinese figures come amidst sharp criticism of the 5C's unsubsidized pricing, which starts at $735 in China. For reference, upstart Xiaomi's new Mi3 flagship Android phone (5" 1080p display, 13MP camera) starts at $327 in the Middle Kingdom.
On the other hand, Japanese carriers are aggressively subsidizing the 5S in the wake of NTT DoCoMo's (DCM +0.7%) iPhone deal. DoCoMo, SoftBank (SFTBF.PK), and KDDI are each providing the 5S for free with 2-year contracts for certain plans.
Kantar Japan recently estimated 2/3 of DoCoMo subs who have been leaving the carrier ended up buying an iPhone.
Also: Bernstein thinks Apple could still come out with a cheaper iPhone in the form of a sub-$400 iPhone 4C that puts the iPhone 4's components inside a 5C body.
Apple gets license to run phones on China Mobile's network
A long-awaited deal between Apple (AAPL) and China Mobile (CHL) appears to have moved closer after the U.S. company received a license for its phones to operate on China Mobile's 3G and 4G networks from the country's Telecom Equipment Certification Center.
Apple's products also obtained licenses to run on the infrastructure of China Unicom (CHU) and China Telecom (CHA), both of which will sell the two iPhones that were unveiled yesterday.
While a deal with China Mobile will open up a market of 700M subscribers, the "low-end" iPhone 5C looks rather pricey for the cost-conscious consumers that Apple was expected to target with the handset. The device will retail at 4,488 yuan ($730), just 800 yuan ($130) less than the top-of-the-line 5S.
As suggested by the DOJ, Apple is prohibited from striking restrictive e-book pricing deals with publishers for 5 years, and is required to stagger its talks with publishers to prevent collusion. Also, an external monitor has been assigned for two years.
However, Apple won't be required to allow rivals to sell e-books through their iOS apps without giving Apple a 30% cut, as the DOJ had suggested. Amazon (AMZN +0.4%) has refused to sell e-books through its Kindle iOS apps out of an unwillingness to pay Apple 30% of its take.
Meanwhile, Reuters nearly backs up yesterday's Sina Tech report by reporting China Unicom (CHU -0.3%) and Telecom (CHA -0.6%) will begin selling the iPhone 5S/5C shortly after it goes on sale in the U.S., a major change of pace from the delays accompanying past Chinese iPhone launches.
The latter is a negative for Google (GOOG +0.2%), due to the huge traffic acquisition payments it makes to Apple for Mobile Safari search ad clicks. However, Google doesn't have to pay Apple if iOS users rely on Chrome, as a growing portion of them are.
Report: China Telecom, Unicom to begin selling iPhone 5S/5C on Sep. 20
If the Chinese media report (comes from local site Sina Tech - translation) pans out, it means China Telecom (CHA +0.4%) and China Unicom (CHU -0.3%) will start selling Apple's (AAPL -0.8%) newest iPhones the same day they're expected to launch in the U.S. and several other big international markets.
Last year, Telecom and Unicom didn't begin selling the iPhone 5 until Dec. 14, more than 2 months after the device went on sale in dozens of other markets.
Sina Tech also reports China Mobile (CHL +0.7%) won't be able to sell the 5S until November (assuming a deal is announced), due to the need for regulatory approval of an iPhone supporting CHL's TD-LTE 4G network.
The 5S is said to come in 4 colors, and the plastic-shell 5C in 5 colors. Other reports suggest the 5S' colors will be white, black, gold, and graphite, and the 5C's colors white, red, green, blue, and yellow.
China's suddenly vigorous enthusiasm for investigations into corporate behavior could strengthen further, with the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) reported to be considering probes into the petroleum, telecommunications and banking sectors.
The idea is to scrutinize industries that affect the lives of ordinary Chinese. However, the sectors mentioned are dominated by state-run companies, such as China Unicom (CHU), China Mobile (CHL) and China Telecom (CHA) in the communications industry, while it's the government that sets the price of oil.
The healthcare sector is already under well-publicized scrutiny, while the NDRC has also asked for information about the prices of foreign cars.
Chinese Internet stocks are turning in a good day after the government unveils a new telecom plan promising to increase fiber-to-the-home deployments, improving 3G connectivity, and issue 4G licenses by year's end. YOKU +6.2%. BIDU +4.7%. QIHU +4.8%. DANG +4.9%. YY +9.2%. CYOU +5.2%. China's telecom giants aren't moving much: CHL +0.3%. CHA -0.4%. CHU +1%. (more on China/4G)
A roundup of tech analyst ratings changes: 1) Evercore has downgraded Intel (INTC -1.5%) to Underweight. Also, Citi has cut its estimates for Intel. 2) Citi has removed Qualcomm (QCOM -0.5%) from its Top Picks Live list. 3) Needham has downgraded contract manufacturers Flextronics (FLEX -0.9%), Plexus (PLXS -1%), and Benchmark Electronics (BHE -1%) to Hold. 4) HSBC has upgraded China Unicom (CHU +0.7%) to Neutral. 5) Jefferies has started Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) at Buy. 6) Evercore has downgraded ON Semi (ONNN -2.7%) to Equal Weight. 7) Barclays has downgraded VeriFone (PAY -1.2%) to Equal Weight.
Apple (AAPL +1.9%) roundup: 1) Brian White cites Chinese 3G growth as a reason for his $888 PT: he points out China's 3G sub base rose 83% Y/Y in April to 293.1M, and is expected to hit 375M-400M by year's end. China Mobile (CHL - previous) had 120M 3G subs; China Unicom (CHU) had 92M, and China Telecom (CHA) 81M. 2) Taiwan's Economic Times reports Apple is testing 1.5" OLED displays for an iWatch, and that "market rumors" indicate Foxconn has received iWatch trial production orders. 3) Digitimes reports MacBook orders are expected to grow 20% Q/Q in Q2, as Apple launches new systems sporting Intel Haswell CPUs at June's WWDC conference.
The Chinese government is expected to issue 4G TD-LTE licenses by year's end, writes Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty in a bullish note on Apple (AAPL +1.2%). The licenses could pave the way for China Mobile (CHL), which has 700M+ subs and is spending $6.75B this year on its TD-LTE network (still in trial mode), to begin selling the iPhone. One potential roadblock: China Unicom (CHU) and China Telecom (CHA) want the government to take its time in issuing TD-LTE licenses. CHA wants to delay its 4G capex, and both carriers are supporting the FDD-LTE standard (far more popular outside of China). (AAPL/CHL agreement)
Sina (SINA -2.5%) gives back yesterday's gains after Tencent (TCEHY.PK) says it has reached "preliminary solutions" with Chinese mobile carriers (CHL, CHU, CHA) regarding its very popular WeChat mobile IM platform, which both generates heavy traffic and eats into text-messaging revenue (China Mobile's text revenue fell 4.8% last year). That's likely raising fears Sina might have to pay carriers for the traffic produced by Weibo, arguably WeChat's top rival. Tencent has said it's unlikely to charge WeChat users.