China to invest $323 bln to expand broadband to all-minister

SINGAPORE, Sept 18 (Reuters) - China plans to invest 2 trillion yuan ($323 billion) to improve its broadband infrastructure by 2020 with the aim of taking the nearly entire population online, a vice minister said on Wednesday.

The government is trying to improve fixed-line and wireless connectivity throughout China, home to the largest number of mobile phone users in the world but where only 45 percent of the population have Internet access.

China’s investment in broadband could benefit global network equipment makers such as Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent , as well as home-grown players like Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp .

“Our 3G network has to cover cities and villages and at the same time, we have to put 4G into wide commercial use,” Shang Bing, a vice minister at the Ministry of Information and Industry, said in an interview published on official website

Shang said the government aimed to boost the average broadband speed in Chinese cities to 20 Mbps by 2015, which is less than what Internet users in Hong Kong and Singapore currently enjoy.

In rural China, where Internet penetration is very low, broadband speeds would hit 4 Mbps by 2015, he said.

China’s broadband strategy will ensure that the number of 3G and LTE users will increase to 1.2 billion by 2020, four times of the current figure, Shang said.

The government aims to increase the number of broadband users by 25 million and fibre optic Internet users by 35 million in 2013, according to the state-run China Internet Network Information Center.

Three companies currently operate all of China’s broadband services: China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. (Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee in SINGAPORE and Paul Carsten in BEIJING; Editing by Miral Fahmy)