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China telecom firms step up 5G efforts

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People try China Unicom’s 5G-based virtual reality soccer game during the company’s 5G innovation applications forum in Fuzhou, capital of East China’s Fujian province. SUPPLIED/CHINA DAILY

China telecom firms step up 5G efforts

A day after China Unicom won its 5G licence for commercial use, the telecom operator announced that it had opened experience stores across 40 cities to encourage consumers to try applications powered by the superfast technology.

Visitors can play with mechanical robotic arms, watch 4K high-definition livestreaming, wear virtual reality goggles to play 3D games and gain first-hand experience of 5G smartphones that are not yet available for orders.

As China officially kicked off the 5G era with the issuing of four 5G licences on June 6, all the state-of-the-art applications are getting closer to the public than ever and telecom carriers are working to build a sound network infrastructure to accelerate its commercialisation.

“After all the hype about 5G, the new era has finally started. The next question for telecom carriers is how to better time the network construction so as to bring 5G applications to the public as fast as possible while avoiding heavy financial pressure on themselves,” said Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance, a telecom industry association.

China Mobile, the world’s largest telecom carrier by mobile subscribers, seems to have adopted a more aggressive strategy. It has started arguably its biggest effort so far to invite bids for network construction and smartphone testing, with the pre-estimated price of its first phase of 5G build out this year set at 19.26 billion yuan ($2.81 billion).

On June 10, China Mobile also said that it will buy 10,100 smartphones from five domestic manufacturers for 5G testing. The company aims to offer 5G commercial services in 40 cities by September.

The relatively small telecom carrier China Telecom also said in a statement that it will speed up its 5G coverage to more than 40 cities and regions, based on its current trial application of the technology in 17 cities.

Wei Leping, an official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the country’s top industry regulator, said the big three telecom carriers are likely to build 80,000 to 90,000 5G base stations this year.

“This is a big scale in comparison with other countries. The US, for instance, the first nation to commercialise 5G, only has several thousand base stations so far,” Wei said.

But currently, companies have to adopt the NSA, or non-standalone architecture, this year, meaning that the 5G network rides on the existing 4G network infrastructure, because the standards on the SA, or stand-alone architecture, are not finalised yet and its solutions won’t be mature until next year.

“Using NSA can help quickly deploy 5G equipment, but it has several shortcomings, including high costs, high power consumption and short technical service life, so it is not suitable for large-scale deployment,” Wei added. The costs of NSA 5G equipment is three times that of 4G base stations.

Amid the current enthusiasm for the next-generation wireless technology, which will power applications such as autonomous driving, some professionals and analysts also gave some suggestions.

Zhao Aiming, deputy head of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, which regulates state-owned enterprises including telecom carriers, said at a recent conference that network operators should avoid repetitive investments in 5G and pay attention to the potential risks in industrial development.

More checks written for 5G

Fu Liang, an independent analyst who has been following the telecom industry for more than a decade, said telecom carriers have not yet recouped their gigantic investments in 4G network construction, and now they need to write more big checks for 5G.

The country’s telecom carriers are forecast to spend 900 billion yuan to 1.5 trillion yuan in total on 5G network construction from next year to 2025, according to a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

“It will be a crucial question as to how to time the rollout rhythm while finding alternative ways to raise enough funds for network construction,” Fu said.

A report from the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, predicts that China will become the world’s largest 5G market by 2025.

With an expected 460 million users of the next-generation, superfast network, user numbers will surpass those in Europe (205 million) and the US (187 million) combined, the report said.

But the biggest potential of 5G lies in its application in traditional sectors, to power smart factories, autonomous driving, corporate management and other applications.

Huang Yuhong, deputy head of the China Mobile Research Institute, said 5G will not be just another technology or system. Instead, it is a platform in which the telecom industry needs to be deeply linked with other sectors. That is the fundamental difference between 5G and 4G.

China is expected to see faster digital economy growth as the granting of 5G commercial-use licences will stimulate industrial upgrading, according to global market research firm International Data Corp.

The digital economy is expected to play a key role in the future and might make up 60 per cent of the global economy by 2022, with the share in China even higher at 65 per cent, IDC China president Huo Jinjie said. CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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