China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has confirmed that it intends to have 4G LTE licenses ready in 2013, Sina Tech reports.

“In 2013, China will promote the coordinated development of TD-SCDMA and TD-LTE, actively promote the expansion of TD-LTE trials, and conscientiously finalize LTE frequency allocation and licensing preparations,” the government agency said in a report (translation mine).

The statement would appear to move forward the timeframe for 4G adoption, as an MIIT official had said back in March that 4G licenses might not come for 2-3 years. The MIIT has indicated it would like to see 400,000 TD-LTE base stations in place before the commercial move to 4G.

It’s not immediately clear, however, whether the MIIT is now planning to issue licenses next year or simply finalize preparations for them. According to Sina Tech, industry sources have speculated that the licenses could come as early as May 2013, while others have predicted October, but it’s all guesswork at this point.

In September, the MIIT issued a notice regarding plans for frequency spectrum for the next generation of wireless technologies. The following month, it confirmed plans to allocate a total of 120MHz for FDD-LTE, with half coming from the 1800MHz band and half coming from 2100MHz.

The third generation of wireless networks in China was divided, with each of the country’s three carriers relying on its own standard. China Mobile in particular was the most isolated because it adopted a proprietary standard for its 3G service. The fourth generation will likely still have similar divisions, though progress has been made in making the different technologies interoperable. For instance, China Mobile Hong Kong recently booted up the first converged network that runs both FDD and TDD LTE/TD-LTE.

China Unicom has reportedly communicated to the MIIT that it plans to upgrade its existing WCDMA frequency bands to FDD LTE in the move to 4G. China Telecom is also believed to be planning a similar move with its own CDMA2000 network.

While many Chinese customers are undoubtedly eager to move to 4G, 3G adoption in the country is still ramping up. Of its more than 1 billion wireless subscribers, only about 220 million of them are on 3G.

Other markets around the world have already made the jump to LTE, so handset makers should be ready to tailor their devices to China when the time comes. The Qualcomm MDM9615 baseband chip used in many popular current-generation smartphones, including the iPhone 5, is capable of supporting both FDD and TDDD LTE, as well as China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA 3G network.

Image via Flickr / The Tenth Dragon