Early start and 4G experience helping: experts
China is likely to take the global lead in developing the fifth generation of cellular network (5G) technology thanks to the head start gained by the country's three telecom operators and homegrown equipment suppliers, as well as the experience accumulated through building 4G networks, experts said on Monday.
China's "big three" carriers - China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom - have already sketched out plans for building 5G infrastructure and conducting 5G technology tests.
The high-speed 5G networks are expected to provide wireless Internet speeds that are 100 times faster than the current 4G networks, and with lower power consumption.
"China Telecom has established a united open laboratory for 5G testing, and has already started field tests in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou," a spokesperson for China Telecom who whished to remain anonymous, told the Global Times on Monday, adding that the mobile operator applied for 59 5G-related patents last year.
On May 17, China Telecom announced that it had built the world's first and largest Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network, signaling a "breakthrough" in the development of 5G technology, the spokesperson said. NB-IoT is generally seen as paving the way for the massive IoT capacities that are vital for 5G technology.
In a similar move, China Mobile announced that it will conduct 5G field tests and start to build 5G networks in China's major cities from 2017. China Unicom also said it will start some preparation work for 5G technology in the second half of 2017. Both carriers intend to roll out commercial 5G technology by 2020, according to media reports.
It is estimated that the three carriers will spend a combined 0 billion on 5G infrastructure over the coming seven years, the South China Morning Post reported on June 12, citing Jefferies equity analyst Edison Lee.
That level of investment would represent about a 48 percent increase in total spending by the three companies from their combined outlay on 4G, said the report. It would also eclipse Japan's spending on 5G, which was forecast to hit billion over the same period.
"5G networks are capital-intensive because the technology needs greater frequency reuse and more base stations," Xiang Ligang, chief executive of domestic telecom industry portal cctime.com, told the Global Times on Monday, noting that huge investment probably promises faster progress.
Besides, telecom operators can also benefit from their rich experience in building 4G networks, experts said.
China is now home to the world's largest 4G network with users touching 770 million by the end of 2016, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
Meanwhile, domestic telecommunication manufacturers such as Huawei and ZTE, whose innovative capacity is comparable to global tech giants like Ericsson, are also investing heavily in research related to 5G technology, Fu Liang, a Beijing-based IT expert, told the Global Times on Monday.
Setting 5G standards
Currently, industry discussions are focused on 5G technology standards. The International Telecommunication Union, which is part of the United Nations, has set a goal for 5G network deployment to begin in 2020, after standards for the technology are agreed on. The concept is known as IMT-2020.
Fu said that as an early starter in researching the technology, China is likely to have a bigger voice in formulating international 5G standards.
"In the past, China was merely following the technology framework designed by foreign competitors," Fu said.
"In terms of 5G, China has participated from the very beginning when the market demand surfaced, and then to the technology concept and application."
The country established the IMT-2020 5G Promotion Group in 2013 to coordinate efforts by mobile service operators, manufacturers and research institutes. And the China-developed 5G standard is scheduled to be released in 2018 and begin commercialized deployment in 2019, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
In March, the MIIT announced that China has established the world's largest 5G test field in the race to standardize the mobile communication technology. On June 6, international mobile communication standard organization the 3rd Generation Partnership Project confirmed that Service-based Architectures, which were proposed by China Mobile, will be used as the unified infrastructure for 5G core networks.