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China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom expect their 5G messaging service, with integrated electronic payment function, to open up new online offerings that will benefit from their next-generation wireless infrastructure. Photo: AP

China’s mobile network operators to push nationwide roll-out of new 5G messaging service

  • China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are expected to launch their new 5G messaging service this month
  • The service, which integrates video, audio and electronic payment functions, could potentially compete with Tencent super app WeChat
China’s three major mobile network operators are expected to soon roll out a nationwide 5G messaging service, integrating video, audio and electronic payment functions, that could potentially compete with Tencent Holdings’ ubiquitous, multipurpose super app WeChat.
The new service from China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom is expected to make its initial commercial test run in the second half of this month, according to a report by China Securities Journal, a national financial newspaper published by state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Huang Changjian, deputy general manager of China Unicom’s product centre, revealed the planned roll-out in a forum at last week’s China International Information and Communication Exhibition, an annual event known as PT Expo China, held in Beijing from September 27 to 29. China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom had initially planned to introduce the service in April last year.

The new 5G service will enable users to send text, photos, video and audio directly via the message window on their smartphones, without downloading an app, according to the three Hong Kong-listed telecommunications carriers’ white paper published in April last year. It will also provide a way for government agencies and companies to provide services and communicate directly with mobile subscribers via chatbots.

“5G messaging will become a new entry [point] for [various] online services,” said the three companies, adding that its built-in digital yuan wallet will enable subscribers to directly make mobile payments.

Workers place a China Mobile 5G sign on one of the carrier’s 5G base stations in Fenggang County, in southwestern Guizhou province, on May 26, 2020. Photo: Reuters

China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

The launch of the new messaging service would take advantage of the rapidly growing number of 5G mobile subscribers in the world’s biggest smartphone, internet and 5G market.

China Mobile, the world’s largest wireless network operator by subscribers, recorded 304.14 million 5G users out of its total 951.1 million subscribers at the end of August. China Telecom had 146.62 million 5G subscribers in the same period, while China Unicom had 129.1 million 5G network users.

China plans to build at least 600,000 more 5G base stations this year, speeding up the roll-out of the next-generation mobile network in the country’s major cities. There were close to 700,000 5G base stations built across the country as of October last year.
While many 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.


Why China is racing to become the global leader in 5G technology

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In an article published on WeChat last week, China Mobile said it has been working with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest commercial lender by assets, on launching a digital yuan wallet as part of its 5G messaging service, enabling subscribers to check their balance, statements and directly transfer money to their contacts.
China’s version of a sovereign digital currency, the so-called Digital Currency Electronic Payment, still has no official commercial launch date, following extensive tests in cities including Shenzhen and Chengdu.
Analysts, however, do not expect the carriers’ new 5G messaging service to threaten WeChat, marketed as Weixin on the mainland, where it had 1.1 billion daily active users as of January this year. By some estimates, WeChat users spend an average of 77 minutes a day on the app.

“It won’t pose a threat to WeChat any time soon, as tremendous time and effort is required to create an ecosystem [on that scale],” Liu Xingliang, an independent internet and technology expert, told the South China Morning Post in April last year.