China’s three state mobile operators have switched on the world’s largest 5G network in what has been described as a “watershed” moment for mobile technology.
With more than one billion active subscriptions, the country is the world’s largest mobile market, while 5G development has received strong support from industry heavyweights like Huawei and the government.
Operators also need the additional capacity to cope with rising demand for data.
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China 5G launch
This generation of mobile technology is the first time that China will assume a major leadership role. But despite its ambitious plans for 5G, China had not been expected to launch commercial networks until next year, long after the US, South Korea and the UK.
Coverage is already available in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, and will extend to more than 50,000 base stations before the end of the year. All three operators are sharing infrastructure in order to increase the pace of rollout and save costs.
Analysts have attributed the accelerated timeline to the ongoing trade tensions with the US and its hostility towards Huawei. By launching 5G earlier, China will create demand for technologies from the likes of Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi. Longer term goals for the Chinese government are to assume leadership in enterprise applications and fields in AI and edge computing.
“China will have 36 per cent of its mobile customer base on 5G by 2025,” said Tim Hatt, Head of Research of GSMA Intelligence. “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.
“The fact that the Chinese mobile operators have been running 5G enterprise trials for 4 years means that as new network infrastructure is laid and standards finalised, it can hit the ground running with robust commercial deployments faster than other countries.”
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