Evident at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018, 5G has become a hot topic in China and the rest of the world. Unlike 2G, 3G and 4G, China’s 5G deployment is timely with other countries. China’s three major carriers play crucial roles in China’s 5G development and determine the pace of 5G roll out in China.Initial 5G applications in China is set for 2019.
Of the three major Chinese telecommunications operators, China Mobile is moving the fastest towards 5G.
In June 2017, China Mobile and ZTE established China’s first 5G pre-commercial testing base station in Guangzhou. In November, China Mobile, Qualcomm and ZTE jointly implemented the world’s first 5G New Radio Interoperability Data Testing based on the 3GPP Release 15 standard. The three companies represent the operator, system up-stream provider and terminal provider, all together constituting a complete 5G communication link. This event marked a milestone in the 5G testing process.
At the MWC 2018, China Mobile was more active:
China Mobile released the largest end-to-end communication solution based on 3GPP standards, including nine manufacturers involved in base stations, terminal chips and test instruments. China Mobile also released 5G commercial product prototype and test results, and published the technical requirements for end-to-end large-scale 5G testing.
China Mobile announced that it will build the world’s largest 5G test network and put forth a large-scale 5G test plan. It will carry out field tests in Hangzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Suzhou, and Wuhan, and will build more than 100 5G base stations in each city. China Mobile will offer 5G services and application demonstrations in 12 cities: Beijing, Xiong’an, Tianjin, Fuzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, Nanchang, Nanning, Shenzhen, Zhengzhou, Shenyang and Lanzhou.
China Mobile has also joined 20 terminal partners to launch the 5G Terminal Pioneer Program. The 20 companies include six major chip manufacturers (Qualcomm, Huawei, Mediatek, Tsinghua Unigroup, Intel, and Samsung), 10 major terminal manufacturers (OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, ZTE, Lenovo, HTC, Hisense, and TCL) and four component companies (Qorvo, Skyworks, Taiyo Yuden and Feixiang).
In addition, China Mobile will launch the first batch of 5G chips before the end of 2018. It will release the first batch of 5G commercial terminals, including data terminals, smartphones and other products by the first half of 2019.
China Mobile’s 5G development is quick and future plans have a clear timetable.
On March 9, China Unicom released seven new cloud broadband and networking products. It also announced the schedule for its own 5G plan, including 5G networking trials in 2018, pre-commercial application in 2019 and commercial application in 2020.
At China Unicom’s first interim shareholders meeting in early February, Wang Xiaochu, chairman of China Unicom, specifically talked about 5G.
The chip maker said that 5G technology will be available by the first quarter of 2019, but it is estimated that the technology will be mature a quarter later. 5G service may really be available by the second half of 2019. We are actively tracking its progression, and the conclusion from our experiments is that we should give manufacturers and R&D institutions some more time to clarify the technology and business model. Both international and Chinese companies should be more cautious to find out where to invest and to apply the business model accordingly.
While China Unicom seems much more cautious about 5G, it has also been active in 5G testing.
In January 2018, China Unicom submitted an application to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to carry out 5G tests in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xiong’an. Hongbing Ma, then deputy general manager of China Unicom network construction department, revealed that China Unicom has completed field construction in Shanghai and Shenzhen. China Unicom also tested Huawei’s, ZTE’s and Nokia’s prototype 5G laboratories.
Compared to China Mobile, China Unicom’s pace has been much slower. At the 2018 MWC, China Unicom, ZTE and Intel jointly held a press conference to issue the white paper on China Unicom’s “Edge-Cloud Platform Architecture and Industrial Ecology”, and announced the official launch of China Unicom’s Edge-Cloud large-scale pilot.
Although the above actions are part of China Unicom’s overall 5G trajectory, China Unicom still focuses on cloud services and is a little far from ordinary users. China Unicom has been largely silent on terminals for commercial connections with 5G.
Like China Mobile and China Unicom, China Telecom has already conducted pilot programs in some cities.
In August of 2017, China Telecom launched the 5G Innovation Demonstration Network in Xiong County, Xiong’an, Hebei Province. At the same time, it issued the white paper for “China Telecom 5G Innovation Demonstration Network”, and said it would take the 5G Innovation Demonstration Network as an opportunity to achieve 5G commercial trials in 2019, and apply it to commercial scale in key cities in 2020.
China Telecom conducted 5G pilot programs in six cities, including Shenzhen, Shanghai, Suzhou, Chengdu and Lanzhou, with six to eight stations in each city mainly in the 3.5 GHz frequency band. The entire process was completed in early December 2017.
In January 2018, Shaoyi Shen, the deputy general manager of China Telecom technology department, explained how China Telecom will build its 5G network by adopting Enhanced Mobile Broadband, Standalone independent networking, and then support for full frequency and all networks.
China Telecom kept a low profile at the MWC 2018. It only announced the establishment of a joint innovation center with Huawei focusing on video, a mobile internet service called e-surfing, and all-optical networks, all largely unrelated to 5G.
With 5G around the corner, 6G is imminent.
To sum it all up, China’s three major carriers all have their own tempo in 5G deployment, with China Mobile being the fastest. Overall, as China vigorously promotes the development of 5G, the three carriers are not far from each other and have relatively consistent timetables: pre-commercial application in 2019 and formal commercial application in 2020.
Finally, since 5G is already available, what about 6G? In an interview with CCTV on March 9, Miao Wei, Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said that China’s research on 6G has already started earlier this year.