By Luigi Gambardella
The clock is ticking. In two years, we are supposed to enjoy full 5G, the next generation of mobile communication technology.
The technology has been rapidly evolving. In 1980s and 1990s in the 1G era, people were excited about talking on big cellphones, with poor battery and bad voice quality; between the 1990s and 2000, 2G allowed text messages; from 2000 to 2010, smartphones emerged following 3G, users were able to have video calls and fast communication; from 2010 on, 4G enabled mobile multimedia, good voice quality and better battery usage.
5G, scheduled to be fully accessible in 2020, will be the next wave of digital innovation.
5G will dramatically increase the speed of the mobile internet, bring brand new experience to audiences over mobile connection, entertainment and multimedia. The supercharged 5G network will enable users to download a movie in a few seconds, or to further stream the live events as video occupies the majority of the world’s internet traffic.
Of course, 5G is far more than providing fast mobile network and perfect entertainment experience. The genuine and more profound revolution brought about by 5G is that this new communication standard will enable mass deployment of the “internet of things”, connecting billions of intelligent devices – fridges, cars, garage doors, central heating. Smart home, smart cities, smart farming will utilize 5G networks for connectivity and monitoring of applications.
The 5G network is capable of latency in less than a millisecond, laying the basis for new services requiring a minimal delay in electronic transmissions, such as driverless vehicles or remote surgery making use of augmented reality.
Quick transmission of data is key for the further digitization of the manufacturing industry. Besides, 5G is particularly required for the modernization of the logistics and transport industries.
Recent progress has reflected accelerated efforts in 5G preparation.
Earlier in mid-June, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP, a body that governs global cellular standards, approved the completion of the standalone (SA) Release 15 of 5G specifications, an essential step to standardize 5G following the release of 5G New Radio (NR) specifications for non-standalone (NSA) operation last year.
The move marked a milestone toward 5G commercialization which enables relevant parties, operators, telecom equipment suppliers and device makers, to work for a standalone 5G network.
But the work is only half done, the 5G standard will not be completed until the end of 2019, when Release 16 of 5G specifications is set to be released. Then the world could embark on a true 5G journey.
Countries are vying for leadership in 5G race as the new technology is essential for the growth. 5G will bring huge benefits for vertical industries such as automobiles, healthcare, transport, agriculture and utilities. The World Bank calculates that with “a 10 percent increase in high speed internet connections, economic growth increases by 1.3 percent.”
China has been viewed as a strong competitor in 5G and is expected to beat the US and become a leader in the global 5G race.
China is most prepared to launch 5G, South Korea is second, while the US ranks third, according to a report released in April 2018 by CTIA, a trade association for the US wireless industry.
Ernst & Young, a global leader in tax, transactions and advisory services, issued a report titled “China is poised to win the 5G race” in June, saying that China has the edge in the race to roll out 5G.
Why will China win the competition? Here may be some reasons:
Firstly, the 5G deployment in China gains strong top-down support from Chinese government.
China has been determined to win the 5G competition, making 5G one of its top priorities in the national agenda. In 2013, China’s “Made in China 2025” pointed out that the country should break through the 5G mobile communication technology comprehensively. In the latest 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), Beijing proposed promoting the development of 5G actively and launching it in 2020.
China is not a follower in 5G anymore, on the contrary, a main contributor to 5G standards. By March, China occupied 32 percent of the world’s 5G standard contribution, submitting more than 8,700 related documents to the 3GPP and has led about 40 percent of the 5G standardization research items in 3GPP. The nation has actively carried out 5G international cooperation with the US, Japan, South Korea and Europe.
With support from the authorities, China started the third phase of 5G technology research and development tests at the end of last year, ahead of schedule, aiming to get pre-commercial 5G products ready.
Secondly, no surprise, China’s scale.
China already has the world’s largest 4G market network with the total number of Chinese 4G network users up to 1.08 billion by the end of April, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
Surveys show that China is poised to become the world’s largest 5G market by 2025, accounting for 430 million 5G connections, or one-third of the global total.
Another report released by global accounting firm Ernst & Young noted that 5G users in China will reach 576 million by 2025, or over 40 percent of global consumption.
Meanwhile, Chinese customers are well adapted to digital culture, which forges a good basis for the future roll-out of 5G. The promising Chinese market will play an essential role in boosting full commercialization of 5G.
Last but not least, Chinese industry’s massive input will fuel the country’s success on 5G.
China’s telecommunications trio of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, as well as and telecom giants such as Huawei, have spared no efforts in 5G trials, innovation and international cooperation, securing China’s leading role in 5G race.
The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, the research arm of the MIIT, predicted the combined 5G expenditure of China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom to hit a peak of 313.3 billion yuan ($47 billion) in 2023.
China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, will conduct external field tests and set up more than a hundred 5G base stations in each of the following five cities: Hangzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Suzhou and Wuhan. The service operator will also conduct 5G network application demonstrations in 12 cities including Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen.
Other operators are also carrying out intensive measures. China Unicom will begin testing 5G network in 16 cities including Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Guiyang, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Fuzhou, while China Telecom will start testing in the following six cities: Xiong’an new area, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Suzhou, Chengdu and Lanzhou.
Research on 5G products in 2009 has seen Huawei invest at least $600 million. It has built 11 5G research centers across the world. For this year, the company plans to invest ￥5 billion in R&D for 5G, and launch a full range of commercial 5G equipment, including wireless access networks, bearer networks, core networks, and devices.
In April, Huawei obtained the world’s first CE type examination certificate (TEC) for 5G products. Its 5G products that have won official approval for commercial use in Europe.
China once lagged behind other countries in issuing 4G and 3G licenses, however, with joint efforts from Chinese government, market and industry, it is widely believed that pain will lead to gain: China will be a new powerhouse in the 5G era.
Luigi Gambardella is president of ChinaEU. The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.
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