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China Government Sees 5G as an Engine of Industry Development, but Will Operators Have Enough Fuel?

Report Summary:

China’s government has just issued its plan to use 3300 – 3600 MHz and 4800 – 5000 MHz bands for 5G. This is the latest step by the government to push 5G development. China hopes 5G could become an engine for the country’s new industrialization and digital transformation, replicating a similar industrial policy that produced success in the 4G era.

Through government backed R&D programs, technology tests and trials, and the tight coordination between operators and domestic vendors, China has achieved successful 4G development. Both 4G subscriptions and average data usage has been growing fast ever since 4G licenses were issued and domestic vendors have leveraged this huge home market advantage to build strong positions in the global ecosystem. Now the government hopes 5G could repeat that success story, particularly in boosting the development of emerging sectors, such as semiconductors, connected vehicles, artificial intelligence, etc.

However, the speed of 4G development has already generated heavy financial burdens on China’s operators. 5G will be the third ‘New Generation Mobile Technology’ that they will roll out in under a decade. The high concentration in the Chinese market further limits the investment capability of smaller operators. Facing competitive pressures and investment challenges, deeper network sharing, such as active RAN sharing or domestic roaming agreements, could be part of the solution for China Telecom and China Unicom.

Deep network sharing might, however, have a negative impact on the carrier business of Chinese vendors, although the competitive 5G networks would boost the 5G device market and innovative applications. Very fast adoption of 5G in China will likely accelerate global 5G development, because of its huge market scale.

2018 will be an important year for 5G development in China. The IMT-2020 Promotion Group will organize 5G network field trials, as China’s operators prepare for pre-commercial 5G trials in 2019. 2G spectrum re-farming and global 5G progress could also influence 5G developments in China.

All these dynamics require close attention from mobile industry players. 

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