What the race to 5G means to China
Mon 7 Mar 2016
In China, the largest consumer market, but hampered by some of the worst connection speeds in the world, work is already under way to get ’10 times faster’ pre-5G internet in 2016 as the global race for faster mobile network speeds hots up.
While 4G is the accepted industry standard on all new smartphones, the sheer number (estimated to reach 50 Billion by 2020 [PDF]) of IoT-connected devices means enormous data demands are already pushing the limits of 4G technologies.
Mainland China will be driving the world’s LTE (Long Term Evolution of wireless broadband) market, reaching 350m LTE subscriptions by the end of this year and 1.2bn by 2021, according to a mobility report published by telecommunications company Ericsson and released at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
The report also claims that 5G mobile network subscriptions (i.e. on devices capable of supporting a new radio access or NX and an evolved LTE access) are expected to reach 150m by 2021. Along with China, countries leading this 5G surge, claims the report, will be South Korea, Japan and the U.S..
But China has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to be among the leaders transforming new network technologies, because the country’s internet infrastructure is still relatively undeveloped.
Slow road to China
The problem lies in the fact that for a country comparable in size to the United States, it only has three main gateways – in the north near Beijing, in Shanghai in the centre and the third in the southern province of Guangzhou – and all traffic that passes through these gateways is monitored by government computers, further slowing down packet speeds.
If China can live up to its promise and develop ‘pre-5G’ technology to a satisfactory standard, it will steal a march on rival countries such as South Korea, which boasts one of the fastest internet speeds in the world
Speaking at last year’s MWC in Shanghai, Maggie Cui, vice president in charge of wireless operation at ZTE, a Chinese multinational telecommunications company, said state-owned mobile network service providers should aim to increase speeds for urban users by 40 per cent.
“There is still some way to go before we can have a global recognized 5G standard but I think we can apply some mature advanced technology to existing 4G network before we officially enter the 5G era,” she told The South China Morning Post.
China’s central government is at last tackling the issue, and millions of mobile phone owners will soon have access to a much faster internet thanks to new technologies and a personal intervention by prime minister Li Keqiang, who has been vociferous in showing his frustration over a snail-pace internet speed that is not only harming plans for China’s industrial restructuring but the country’s economic growth.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, Li told a cabinet meeting last year that: “China is the world’s biggest mobile phone market, but internet speeds are ranked worse than 80th in the world. Our information infrastructure is backward.”
Li’s comments appeared to have had the desired effect. The country’s three main state-owned mobile network operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – have announced plans to cut mobile data fees and to increase mobile internet speed.
Cui said that ZTE has been working with China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, to test so-called “pre-5G” connections, which could be more than 10 times faster than current 4G mobile internet.
“The faster the network is, the more traffic users will use,” China Mobile chairman Xi Guohua told MWC Shanghai in a keynote speech.
If China can live up to its promise and develop ‘pre-5G’ technology to a satisfactory standard, it will steal a march on rival countries such as South Korea, which boasts one of the fastest internet speeds in the world.