China Unicom is gearing up to become the first Chinese carrier to launch commercial 5G services for consumers next month and firmly position China as one of the frontrunners that will drive the next generation of mobile technology.
China seemed to have lost momentum compared to rival regions, after carriers in South Korea, Switzerland, and the United States moved ahead with their respective commercial 5G launches. China Unicom is now clearly putting its foot on the gas, placing 5G front and center at the carrier’s partner conference in Shanghai this week with a raft of announcements ranging from the launch of smartphone devices through to availability of its 5G network.
For example, the Chinese carrier launched a “5G pioneer program” to enable “friendly” 5G users to sign up to trial consumer 5G services; unveiled the “5Gn” logo for future networks and services; confirmed full 5G coverage for trials in seven cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Xiongan) and partial coverage in 33 cities; and signaled the readiness of 5G smartphones from Huawei, ZTE, Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and Nubia. Qualcomm Technologies also confirmed it is supporting China Unicom’s 5G rollout in collaboration with the smartphone vendors, although the U.S. chipset company additionally mentioned OnePlus in its release but excluded Huawei.
China Unicom also made reference to two 5G alliances: one it referred to as the China Unicom 5G Application Innovation Alliance, which it said was launched at the conference with 32 partners in the fields of new media, industrial Internet, connected cars, healthcare, education, and tourism; and a second it called the 5G International Cooperation Alliance with the aim of exploring international 5G roaming. BT, NTT, Orange, and Telefonica were name checked here, although few other details were provided. Furthermore, China Unicom flagged the signing of a memorandum of strategic cooperation with Intel for the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022 with a focus on smart applications for the venue.
China Unicom and Nokia have also partnered on a cooperative 4G and 5G network running on a cloud-based radio access network (cRAN) in the Xiongan. The network, which the vendors have dubbed the “world’s largest field trial,” will target use cases for 5G and demonstrate how networks can separate software and hardware to more rapidly deploy 5G.
For sure, it has long been expected that China will play a big part in global 5G developments, and any early delays are likely to be forgotten once the market’s three carriers (China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom) launch the country’s 5G juggernaut.
In March, a report from GSMA Intelligence (GSMAi) said China is set to become one of the world’s leading 5G markets in the years to come, with Chinese mobile operators expected to invest an additional $58 billion over the next two years in 5G network rollouts. The analyst firm is also forecasting that China will account for by far the largest number of 5G connections in 2025, greater than North America and Europe combined.