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China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom launched their commercial 5G services on the mainland in 2019. Photo: Shutterstock

China targets 2 million installed 5G base stations this year, expanding world’s biggest next-generation mobile network, as 6G preparations push ahead

  • The country currently has 1.425 million installed 5G base stations that support more than 500 million 5G users nationwide
  • While China’s 5G mobile network is already the world’s biggest, MIIT head Xiao Yaqing said the existing number of base stations ‘is not enough’
China will have 2 million installed 5G base stations this year to step up expansion of the country’s next-generation mobile network, while preparing for the development of the more advanced 6G wireless system, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
The Chinese mainland currently has 1.425 million installed 5G base stations that support more than 500 million 5G users nationwide, which makes it “the biggest network [of its kind] in the world”, MIIT minister Xiao Yaqing said on Tuesday in a press briefing on the sidelines of the annual “two sessions”.

“Moving forward, we will step up our efforts in base stations. What we have now is not enough,” Xiao said in the live-streamed event, adding that the government will accelerate support for advanced 5G applications.

He indicated that China will strive to maintain its leadership in 5G, while planning and laying the foundation for research and development on 6G technology.

Technicians of mobile network operator China Telecom set up a 5G base station near the Yellow River in Lanzhou, capital of northwestern Gansu province, on May 16, 2019. Photo: Reuters
While most people see 5G as a technical upgrade to 4G, the next-generation wireless system is expected to be a major building block of the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, that would accelerate the automation of traditional industries. 5G builds upon 4G by providing a peak data rate of up to 20 gigabits per second and a faster average user experience of 100 megabits per second, compared with about 10Mbps in the previous generation.

6G represents the mobile network technology that will succeed 5G, which is still being rolled out in many countries. China, with the world’s biggest internet population and largest smartphone market, has already deployed the biggest 5G mobile infrastructure in the industry.

The MIIT’s focus on advancing the pace of 5G infrastructure buildout reflects how China remains locked in a race with the US on next-generation mobile network development.

China’s president outlines vision of digital economy with 5G and data

US trade sanctions have barred major telecommunications equipment makers Huawei Technologies Co and ZTE Corp from selling their 5G gear to American mobile carriers, while Washington’s pressure on its economic allies have excluded Chinese suppliers from various 5G network roll-outs in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Still, nearly all key indicators support projections that China will dominate 5G development, according to a report published last December by the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, the public policy institution of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined his vision of a digital economy with 5G connectivity and nationwide data management at its core. The State Council, China’s cabinet, published in the same month a new digital economy development blueprint, which seeks a major standards-setting role for the country in 6G mobile technology.

Some delegates at the “two sessions”, China’s largest annual political gathering, have also called for expanded 5G network development.

Zhong Zhangdui, a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference delegate, urged the government to set up a unified 5G mobile frequency dedicated for railway transport, part of a proposal to establish an advanced and reliable communications infrastructure for trains.
At the opening of the annual National People’s Congress last Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang reiterated the nation’s push for innovation and “faster breakthroughs” in core technologies, which includes 5G. Network operators China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom launched their commercial 5G services on the mainland in 2019.