According to Mobile World Live, China’s three major mobile operators officially launched 5G services in parts of 50 cities, claiming the largest rollout in the world just six months after the government issued licenses. The three operations deployed about 86,000 5G base stations and expect to have more than 130,000 by year-end. Market leader China Mobile aims to install 50,000 sites by end-December, while China Unicom and China Telecom each target about 40,000. China Unicom claimed ubiquitous 5G coverage in 14 cities and 28,000 base stations.
All three operators announced similar packages with different speed tiers. Users without a 5G device can still subscribe to the 5G plans to take advantage of the larger data allowances. China Mobile, for example, offers five plans with two speed tiers: speed limits of 500Mb/s and 1Gb/s. Monthly prices range from CYN128 ($18.10) for 30GB (low tier) to CNY598 for 300GB (high tier). It’s giving 30 per cent discounts to existing customers, who have subscribed for three to five years. The company said it already registered 10 million customers to 5G packages. China Unicom, the third largest operator in the country, claimed ubiquitous coverage in 14 cities, with plans to have service in 40 cities by the end of the year. Chen Zhaoxiong, vice minister of Industry and Information Technology (centre), kicked off the launch with representatives from the three operators at PT Expo China in Beijing today (31 October).
GSMA Intelligence’s Head of Research, Tim Hatt, hailed the move as a “watershed moment” for the industry: “China will have 36 per cent of its mobile customer base on 5G by 2025. Because of its huge population this translates into 600 million subscribers – roughly 40 per cent of the entire global 5G market by that time. Expect this to act as an increasing force of gravity for a domestic supporting ecosystem of handset manufacturers, chip makers, network equipment suppliers and content producers that reduces reliance on foreign companies.”
Hatt also pointed to the impact the deployment will have on China’s global ambitions. “5G is part of a wider set of advanced technologies – including AI, machine learning and edge computing – that have become strategically important levers in the transformation to digital economies, be those manufacturing or service-based,” he noted. “China is staking its claim to be at the forefront of this transition over the next 10 years, commanding both economic and geopolitical influence.”
According to the Washington Post, the Chinese government has embarked on a centrally planned push to roll out the technology on a commercial basis and give it an unassailable lead in the global race to install 5G wireless networks. “The commercialization of 5G technology is a great measure of [President] Xi Jinping's strategic aim of turning China into a cyber power, as well as an important milestone in China’s information communication industry development,” said Wang Xiaochu, president of China Unicom.
Xi has described the world as on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution, one characterized by advances in information technology and artificial intelligence, analysts at Trivium China, a consultancy, wrote in a research note this week. “Xi wants to make sure that China is at the forefront of this new revolution — getting 5G up and running is a way to get a leg up in that race,” they said.
About 13,000 base stations that enable the 5G network have been installed in the capital, the Beijing communications administration said this week, and 10,000 are already operating. The central government wants 5G coverage extended to cover all of Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou by the end of the year. The country’s largest carrier, China Mobile, which has 900 million cellphone subscribers, says it will be able to offer 5G services in more than 50 cities this year. China is forecast to spend between $130 billion and $217 billion on 5G between 2020 and 2025, according to a study by the state-run China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.