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5G is either going to be much cheaper or much more expensive

US carriers warn it could be more expensive, while China Telecom says basic plans will be cheaper

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

5G is coming soon, but how much is it going to cost you? In China, it could cost dramatically less… while carriers in the US are already warning that it could cost more.

At issue here is the new wave of internet-connected devices enabled by 5G. It’s expected to allow many more devices to stay online -- everything from smart home gadgets to tiny sensors to driverless cars.

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China Telecom, one of the country’s top three carriers, says you’ll be able to save a lot if you don’t have those devices. But in the US, AT&T says the added load from all those devices will likely mean that users will have to pay more.

Last week, an AT&T spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that 5G cell phone service is likely going to “carry a premium”, because consumers may need more data for a larger number of connected devices. And earlier this year, Sprint’s then-acting CEO said the company plans to charge 5G customers at a similar rate to rivals AT&T and Verizon -- a departure from its usual discount pricing strategy.
China Telecom gave a more specific view of the future. At a wireless technology summit organized by Qualcomm in Hong Kong, vice president Gao Tongqing offered an overview of 5G rates.

With faster connection speeds, 5G users will likely consume more data than they do currently with 4G. Gao said carriers would likely charge data in units of 10GB -- which means, gone are the days of a 1GB data plan.

In China, Gao expects every 10GB to cost around 10 yuan (US$1.45). Right now, a 5GB wireless plan (plus 200 minutes talk time) with China Telecom costs 59 yuan (US$8.5), as listed on their website. That means by paying the same rate, a 5G user could theoretically get more data than on a 4G plan.
Like the US, China is aggressively pushing for the launch of 5G. An analyst with Bernstein Research told the South China Morning Post that China’s three largest telecom companies are now building 5G base stations around the country, with commercial rollout expected in 2020.  

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For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.