Commercial 5G launched by Chinese operators

Commercial 5G launched by Chinese operators

Six months after receiving their 5G licences, all three major Chinese operators are now offering 5G services across 50 cities in what they claim is the largest deployment worldwide.

Between them, the operators have installed around 86,000 5G base stations with the aim of surpassing 130,000 by the end of 2019 – China Mobile expects to have deployed 50,000 sites by this time, which China Unicom and China Telecom anticipate 40,000 each.

Tim Hatt, Head of Research of GSMA Intelligence, commented: “While far from the first country to launch 5G, China’s entry to the 5G era is a watershed moment for the global communications sector and advanced technology in general.”

Hatt added that the sheer size of China’s population meant that the growth of its 5G ecosystem would boost the country’s self-sufficiency, noting: “China will have 36% of its mobile customer base on 5G by 2025. Because of its huge population this translates into 600 million subscribers - roughly 40% 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.”

Market leader China Mobile claims to have signed 10 million customers up to 5G tariffs, driving adoption by offering a 30% discount to subscribers who have been with the operator for over three years. Third-placed China Unicom claimed to offer ubiquitous coverage in 14 cities and would expand this to a further 26 cities by next year.

All three operators are pricing their services according to speed tiers, with China Mobile offering either 500Mb/s or 1Gb/s, with five pricing options ranging from range from CYN128 ($18.10) for 30GB on the slower speed to CNY598 for 300GB on the higher speed. Users of 4G devices can also choose the tariffs for the higher data allowances.

Hatt added: “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. China is staking its claim to be at the forefront of this transition over the next 10 years, commanding both economic and geopolitical influence.”