Just how fast are China’s 5G networks? ZTE conducts tests in Guangzhou to find out

Li Tao

Download speeds for China’s 5G networks far outstrip those of 4G networks, a speed test by Shenzhen-based ZTE Corp showed on Thursday, two weeks after the latest generation of cellular network technology was commercially launched in the world's largest smartphone market.

ZTE conducted the 15-minute trial of the 5G network in a car driving along a 6km-long route in Pazhou, a subdistrict of Haizhu in China’s Guangzhou city.

The field test in Guangzhou – one of the pilot cities in the roll-out of the 5G network – showed download speeds reaching more than 1,300 megabits per second (Mbps), with an average of about 1,000 Mbps.

Download speeds fluctuated as the signal switched between nine base stations along the route, with the lowest speeds hitting about 800 Mbps.

A ZTE display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February. Photo: AFP

The average 5G download speeds in the area, located relatively centrally in Guangzhou, are about 10 times faster than popular 4G networks, which support speeds of up to 100 Mbps, according to ZTE engineer Zeng Zhaojun.

ZTE is the world’s fourth largest telecommunications equipment vendor after Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. Fellow Chinese tech titan Huawei Technologies, the world’s biggest network equipment maker, has invested billions of dollars in 5G networks and is considered to be the industry leader.

While countries such as South Korea, the US, Australia and the UK launched initial commercial 5G services in the second quarter, Chinese carriers have pinned high hopes on the mass adoption of 5G services in a country with over a billion people and amid a government push behind the new technology, which promises lightning fast wireless connections, reduced latency and massive capacity.

China’s telecoms operators unveil tariff plans for 5G services launch

China’s three major telecommunications carriers – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – all launched their monthly 5G data plans on November 1.

The three carriers’ monthly 5G tariff plans all have similar pricing models, starting at 128 yuan (US$18) a month for 30 gigabytes of data and going up to 599 yuan for 300GB. The prices of these new plans are close to existing 4G monthly plans.

The different plans also come with varying download speeds. The basic 128-yuan monthly 5G plan from China Mobile, for example, offers users a peak download speed of 300 Mbps. In contrast, consumers who subscribe to the carrier’s 869-yuan 5G family package get faster peak download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.

More 5G base stations planned, but full coverage depends on market needs

In July, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that Guangzhou, the capital of south China’s Guangdong province, planned to build a total of 65,000 5G base stations by 2021.

The city’s target was to achieve uninterrupted 5G network coverage in main urban districts and key areas, according to the agency, citing the city’s bureau of industry and information technology.

US official criticises countries ‘opening their arms’ to Chinese 5G

China Mobile, the world’s largest telecommunications operator in terms of subscribers, said it would establish a total of 6,000 5G base stations by the end of the year. This will account for more than 40 per cent of the 14,600 5G base stations planned for Guangzhou by the end of this year.

Although many major commercial and residential areas in Guangzhou already have 5G coverage, the total number of 5G base stations currently in use is less than a third of that of 4G base stations. This means 5G smartphone users can only use 4G services in places that have yet to be covered by the latest network.

“There is no technical hurdle for full coverage of the 5G network in China,” Zeng said. “But carriers will form their respective plans for the 5G network roll-out depending on market needs.”

Major smartphone vendors in China started introducing 5G smartphone handsets before the network’s official launch, targeting consumers hungry for the fastest download speeds.

As of September, two months ahead of the launch, a total of 485,000 5G smartphones had been shipped out in China, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.

This is still a small proportion of the country’s overall handset sales, at about 1.3 per cent of the 36.2 million smartphone shipments reported by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology for September.

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