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Mobile World Congress 2017

China Mobile targets steady build-out of 5G infrastructure from 2018

The operator’s 5G field tests this year will cover Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 7:54pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 4:28pm

China Mobile plans to begin development of trial 5G networks in major mainland Chinese cities from next year, expand these deployments in 2019 and launch commercial services in 2020, according to its chief executive Li Yue.

The world’s largest mobile network operator officially presented its 5G build-out timetable at two separate events on Tuesday in Barcelona, Spain, which showed the mainland’s resolve to drive global adoption of this advanced new mobile system.

In a session for 5G development on the second day of the Mobile World Congress conference, Li reiterated the commitment of China Mobile to push forward with 5G outdoor testing this year.

The Hong Kong-listed company last week announced that it would conduct over-the-air field trials on the mainland’s 3.5-gigahertz spectrum band in the second half of this year, using products from ZTE Corp and Qualcomm Technologies.

Liu Guangyi, the chief technology officer for wireless development at the China Mobile Research Institute, told participants at the 5G innovation sharing forum hosted in Barcelona by Huawei Technologies that the operator will be working with different telecommunications equipment suppliers in its 5G field tests.

Those include ZTE in Guangzhou, Ericsson and Datang Telecom in Beijing, Nokia in Hangzhou, and Huawei in Shanghai and Chengdu, according to an RCR Wireless report.

“China Mobile’s 5G timetable is in line with our expectations, which includes meaningful capital expenditure from 2019,” Jefferies equity analyst Edison Lee told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday.

Lee pointed out that the lead taken by China Mobile in this potentially massive infrastructure development programme represented the mainland government’s goal to have “5G networks with nationwide coverage as soon as possible”.

Wide 5G coverage supports the objectives set in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan to use high-speed internet services, as well as so-called big data, cloud computing and Internet of Things technologies to help alleviate poverty in rural areas and upgrade the country’s various industries, he said.

China Mobile was the first operator to launch commercial 4G services in the world’s second biggest economy in January 2014.

China Telecom followed in February and China Unicom in March that same year.

The three operators quickly built up their 4G subscriber base over the past two years to record a combined 789.5 million 4G subscribers as of January 31, bolstering the mainland’s position as the world’s biggest 4G market as well as largest market for smartphones.

China Mobile also cemented its status as the global telecommunications industry’s top 4G network operator with its 552.2 million 4G subscribers in the same period, more than the United States’ total population of 324 million last year.

The operators’ cost of upgrade to 5G will not be cheap since many more base stations need to be added and old ones replaced
Jefferies equity analyst Edison Lee

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is supporting the mainland’s 5G ambitions by stepping up 5G spectrum allocation ahead of the universal 5G standard being finalised later this decade, Jefferies’ Lee said.

“Local media on Tuesday reported that the MIIT’s Radio Regulatory Bureau would accelerate spectrum planning below the 6GHz band for 5G allocation in either 2018 or 2019,” he said.

Those comprise the 3.3GHz to 4GHz, 4.4GHz to 4.5GHz and 4.8GHz to 4.9GHz spectrum bands.

“Since 5G will operate at higher frequency bands than 3G and 4G, the number of base stations required for 5G services will be more than in 4G,” Lee said. “The operators’ cost of upgrade to 5G will not be cheap since many more base stations need to be added and old ones replaced.”

Bernstein Research senior analyst Chris Lane said China Tower Corp, the infrastructure-shari­ng joint venture formed by the three operators in 2014, “will play a significant role in keeping down their capital expenditure in building a much denser 5G network”.