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Telecom firms step up 5G efforts

By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-25 09:44
People try China Unicom's 5G-based virtual reality soccer game during the company's 5G innovation applications forum in Fuzhou, capital of East China's Fujian province, on Jan 10. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Carriers building sound network infrastructure for upcoming commercial use

A day after China Unicom won its 5G license for commercial use, the telecom operator announced that it had opened experience stores across 40 cities to encourage consumers to try applications powered by the superfast technology.

Visitors can play with mechanical robotic arms, watch 4K high-definition livestreaming, wear virtual reality goggles to play 3D games and gain first-hand experience of 5G smartphones that are not yet available for orders.

As China officially kicked off the 5G era with the issuing of four 5G licenses on June 6, all the state-of-the-art applications are getting closer to the public than ever and telecom carriers are working to build a sound network infrastructure to accelerate its commercialization.

"After all the hype about 5G, the new era has finally started. The next question for telecom carriers is how to better time the network construction so as to bring 5G applications to the public as fast as possible while avoiding heavy financial pressure on themselves, "said Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance, a telecom industry association.

China Mobile, the world's largest telecom carrier by mobile subscribers, seems to have adopted a more aggressive strategy. It has started arguably its biggest effort so far to invite bids for network construction and smartphone testing, with the pre-estimated price of its first phase of 5G build out in 2019 set at 19.26 billion yuan ($2.81 billion).

On June 10, China Mobile also said that it will buy 10,100 smartphones from five domestic manufacturers for 5G testing. The company aims to offer 5G commercial services in 40 cities by September.

The relatively small telecom carrier China Telecom also said in a statement that it will speed up its 5G coverage to more than 40 cities and regions, based on its current trial application of the technology in 17 cities.

Wei Leping, an official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the country's top industry regulator, said the big three telecom carriers are likely to build 80,000 to 90,000 5G base stations this year.

"This is a big scale in comparison with other countries. The United States, for instance, the first nation to commercialize 5G, only has several thousand base stations so far, "Wei said.

But currently, companies have to adopt the NSA, or non-standalone architecture, this year, meaning that the 5G network rides on the existing 4G network infrastructure, because the standards on the SA, or stand-alone architecture, are not finalized yet and its solutions won't be mature until next year.

"Using NSA can help quickly deploy 5G equipment, but it has several shortcomings, including high costs, high power consumption and short technical service life, so it is not suitable for large-scale deployment," Wei added. The costs of NSA 5G equipment is three times that of 4G base stations.

Amid the current enthusiasm for the next-generation wireless technology, which will power applications such as autonomous driving, some professionals and analysts also gave some suggestions.

Zhao Aiming, deputy head of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, which regulates State-owned enterprises including telecom carriers, said at a recent conference that network operators should avoid repetitive investments in 5G and pay attention to the potential risks in industrial development.

Fu Liang, an independent analyst who has been following the telecom industry for more than a decade, said telecom carriers have not yet recouped their gigantic investments in 4G network construction, and now they need to write more big checks for 5G.

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