China maintains leading position in 5G networks despite effects of coronavirus, industry body says

Che Pan

China has maintained its position as a global 5G wireless network leader despite the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a leading industry group.

Massive investment from Chinese state-owned mobile operators and growing enthusiasm from consumers and companies have all helped China maintain its global leadership in next-generation 5G wireless networks, according to a report published on Tuesday by GSMA, a trade body for mobile operators worldwide.

“China is leading in the early adoption in 5G and has already built more than 160,000 5G base stations covering more than 50 cities as operators aim to expand standalone 5G network coverage and capacity,” said Sihan Bo Chen, Head of Greater China at GSMA.

The rollout of 5G networks and big data centres are considered fundamental elements of China’s digital infrastructure, aimed at driving greater connectivity for consumers and businesses across the country. Doubts have been raised in recent months though that China’s aggressive timetable for installing 5G base stations could be threatened by the coronavirus outbreak, which has seen large parts of the country locked down.

Nonetheless, China’s three largest telecoms operators - China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile - have been told by Beijing to accelerate the roll-out of 5G networks to support the digital transformation of the world’s second-largest economy.

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“Unlocking the benefits of these next-generation networks, flexible policies, including for spectrum and infrastructure, are strategically important to support China’s ongoing transformation into a fully-fledged digital economy,” Sihan Bo Chen said.

Mobile operators in China launched initial commercial 5G services last year and are leading the way in diversifying their offerings for both consumers and enterprises, GSMA said in the release.

GSMA also forecasts that 5G will account for almost half of the country’s mobile connections by 2025, representing an adoption rate on par with other leading 5G markets such as Japan, South Korea and the US.

State broadcaster CCTV said in early March that 80 per cent of 5G network construction was on track in China as of the end of February, marking strong progress even in the face of the coronavirus threat.

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