It’s fair to say that China and 5G have been somewhat in the spotlight of late, spurred by U.S. government calls to ban the use of equipment from the likes of Huawei and ZTE in 5G networks across the world.
A new study from GSMA Intelligence (GSMAi) on China’s role in the mobile communications market, and the impact it will have on 5G, therefore comes as a timely reminder — if we still needed one — that China is set to become one of the world’s leading 5G markets in the years to come. Chinese mobile operators are set to invest an additional $58 billion over the next two years in 5G network rollouts, according to the report.
While The Mobile Economy China 2019 provides an overview of the entire mobile market in China, it casts a particularly beady eye on the country’s ambitions for 5G. China may have been late in launching 4G compared to many other markets, but it has stepped up the pace for 5G. Incentives for operators to launch 5G networks in a timely fashion include the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will enable them to showcase the services that 5G can enable, with facial recognition and virtual reality streaming cited as two innovations that will be demonstrated during the games.
GSMAi notes that China’s three mobile operators, China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom, certainly aim to be in the vanguard of 5G network launches alongside Japan, South Korea, and the United States. The analyst firm is already forecasting that China will account for by far the largest number of 5G connections in 2025, greater than North America and Europe combined. Total 5G connections in China are expected to reach 460 million by the end of 2025, accounting for 28 percent of total connections in the country.
In terms of network choices, the study notes that China Telecom has already confirmed its preference for 5G new radio standalone (SA) technology, while other operators are still evaluating the standalone and non-standalone (NSA) models. It’s also interesting to note that 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) services are not expected to be a primary focus of Chinese operators because of the extensive rollout of fiber networks throughout the country.
Ensuring the provision of adequate spectrum access is a challenge that all markets face, however. The MIIT has already issued test licenses for 5G trials in the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz), 3.5GHz and 4.9GHz bands to support pre-commercial deployments, and temporary 5G network licenses are expected to be issued in some cities during 2019.
The study does not focus on the current trials and tribulations of Huawei and ZTE, noting only that “Chinese network infrastructure vendors face challenges in maintaining their footholds in certain markets.”
For sure, their massive domestic market will continue to be a huge prop for the two vendors amid the negative publicity emanating from abroad. The two vendors are already vying to take the lead in 5G testing under the aegis of the IMT-2020 (5G) Promotion Group, which was established in 2013 as China’s platform to promote 5G research in that country.