The competition among China’s three major telecom operators for Little Smart frequency band is reaching a feverish pitch with the upcoming release of 4G operating licenses (source in Chinese).

Launched in 1997, the personal handy-phone system (PHS) was known as Little Smart, or Xiaolingtong in Chinese, in mainland China . Its subscribers hit a historical high of 93.41 million in 2006. The system was phased out in recent years due to bad signals amid mounting competition from 3G and 4G technologies.

Generally speaking, China Telecom and China Unicom, two operators of Little Smart, are obliged to hold the frequency spectrum after the service is phased out.

However, China Mobile picked up the competition, because the frequency band used by Little Smart is assigned to TDD technology by international practice. Moreover, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology reiterated in 2012 that the 1.9GHZ frequency band currently used by Little Smart will be assigned to TDD networks.

Supported by governmental policy, China Mobile, a leading TDD developer, thinks that it has the privilege to use the frequency band. China Mobile is still in discussion with China Telecom and China Unicom, but the latter two telecom carriers are reluctant to give away.

The prospects for China Mobile to win the battle dims because PHS phones still maintain around 12.25 million active subscribers. The situation becomes more volatile as China Telecom and China Unicom may also acquire the TDD-LTE operating licenses.