China Builds 718,000 5G Base Stations, Aims to Roll Out 6G by 2029

Workers at the construction site of a 5G base station in Chongqing, southwest China in April. (Source: Xinhua)
Workers at the construction site of a 5G base station in Chongqing, southwest China in April. (Source: Xinhua)

China has built a total of 718,000 5G base stations throughout the country this year, most of them in large and medium-sized cities, the government announced. 

The number includes 330,000 base stations shared among the country’s four major telecom operators, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) vice-minister Liu Liehong at a conference on Tuesday.

Portability services are operating smoothly, which means users can shift from one telecom operator to another without changing numbers, the minister added.

The government originally had a target of deploying 500,000 5G base stations this year, and the current number is more than twice the number of 5G base stations outside China. 

China is currently the world’s largest smartphone market and has the world’s biggest 5G infrastructure. It is expected to have about 600 million subscribers of the next-generation wireless technology by 2025.

China Mobile, the world’s largest operator in terms of subscribers, added 15.2 million 5G subscribers in October, the company said on its website, adding that it now has a total of 128.8 million 5G subscribers, compared to 6.7 million in January.

Meanwhile, rival operator China Telecom added 7.06 million subscribers in October, increasing its total 5G subscribers base to 71.86 million.

The deployment of 5G’s faster network with higher capacity will support a range of diversified digital services, including 8K video formats, AR/VR and the Internet of Things (IoT).

3GPP, an international organization that develops telecom standards, has defined the set of specifications for 5G communications, which includes eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband), mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications) and URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications).

Among them, eMBB corresponds to greater data-bandwidth with more stable connections; mMTC corresponds to large-scale machine communication and supports a massive number of IoT devices; and URLLC supports services that require low-latency and high-reliability connections, such as autonomous driving and industrial automation.

According to Yu Xiaohui, vice president of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), eMBB, uRLLC and mMTC will be commercially available from 2021, 2024 and 2026, respectively. 

Yu noted that 5G network scale construction will take place in the next three years, while 2025 to 2028 will be a period of system improvement, and 6G will be introduced around 2029. 

To achieve complete 5G coverage, China will need approximately 10 million 5G base stations in total, which will require a total investment of 2 trillion yuan ($280 billion).

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Large cities including Beijing and Shenzhen already have full 5G coverage and 5G deployments are also accelerating in Shanghai.

According to the CAICT, a total of 199 new 5G smartphone models were rolled out between January and November this year, with total shipments at 144 million units.