China switches on 5G
Written by Wei Shi | 01 Nov 2019
Very much in the same way as the South Korean operators did back in April, all three of China’s incumbent telecom operators switched their 5G networks on the same day. The simultaneous inauguration was held in Beijing on Thursday and was graced by the presence of officials of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the government body overseeing telecoms.
“The commercial launch of 5G is an ideal opportunity to quicken the steps to infrastructure development, including AI and IoT,” said Chen Zhaoxiong, the vice minister of MIIT, as was reported by Xinhua, one of China’s major official propaganda outlets. Chen also highlighted the importance of 5G working in collaboration with other vertical industries, including manufacturing, transport, energy, and agriculture. He also sees 5G playing a key role in promoting innovations in education, health care, government service, and smart cities.
Since four licences were awarded in June, over 80,000 5G base stations have been built, half of them belong to China Mobile. The world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers are going to offer 5G services in 50 cities, including all the major cities across the country, according to its press release. The company claimed it has already launched 44 5G devices since it received the licence, 13 of them already in the market (10 smartphones and 3 CPEs).
China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator by subscribers, will also start offering 5G services in 50 cities. The names were not spelled out in the press release, but it would be a surprise if they were the same 50 as China Mobile. In addition to talking about new experience offered by 5G in cloud-based gaming and HD video, the operator also stressed 5G+Cloud+AI offers to industry customers, including industrial internet, smart cities, smart medical care, smart education, transport and logistics, and smart energy.
China Unicom does not give a specific number of cities its 5G service will cover, though earlier the company announced that it will share RAN with China Telecom in 15 cities, as well as build its own 5G networks in 14 additional cities as well as extending to 8 other provinces. So, the total number of cities covered by Unicom 5G should be comparable with the other two.
Absent from the launch is China Broadcasting Network Corporation Ltd, the licenced greenfield operator.
South Korea is the largest 5G subscriber market so far, but thanks to the sheer size of the Chinese market, even with lower penetration China is expected to overtake South Korea and the US to become the world’s largest 5G market. GSMA, the industry lobby group, estimates China will have 600 million 5G subscribers by 2025, about 40% of the global 5G market.