China will double down on its national 5G rollout by building at least 600,000 new base stations in 2021 in efforts to bolster its economy and meet customer complaints regarding spotty coverage, Xiao Yaqing, the Head of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said during a conference.
The Minister highlighted the need to increase coverage in major cities across China, while aiming to deploy more data centers and computing facilities to facilitate 5G coverage. In parallel, the MIIT head noted that the government will begin launching preliminary testing for industrial fifth generation private networks.
“It will focus on 10 key industries, form 20 typical industrial application scenarios, carry out industrial 5G network pilot projects and timely release 5G millimeter wave frequency plans for some frequency bands,” Xiao Yaqing said during the conference.
So far, 5G has been deployed in sectors including ports, machinery, automobiles, steel, mining and energy, besides being applied in industrial internet, Internet of Vehicles, healthcare, education and other such areas.
According to numbers reported by the MIIT, China currently boasts a whopping 160 million devices connected to 5G networks with 690,000 active base stations country-wide since mid-October.
The fifth generation wireless technology aims to increase the speed of data movement, be more responsive, and allow for greater connectivity of devices simultaneously. This means that 5G will allow for the near instantaneous downloading of data, which would otherwise take hours for current networks.
While China seems to be flying high regarding its 5G strategy, consumers are starting to punch holes in this momentum with local media reporting complaints of spotty coverage as well as aggressive marketing strategies by telcos.
Many have noted that they don’t see the difference in speeds between current 4G connections and their 5G counterparts; in parallel, some local telecoms are forcing their users to upgrade by cancelling existing 4G packages, leading to complaints and the topic “Getting 5G’d” to trend on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
According to a survey Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research, three in four non-5G users did not feel a need to buy a 5G phone, and over 62 percent of 4G users said they did not have any demand for 5G.
The country’s leading telecom carriers, such as the China Mobile and China Telecom, have reported 114 million and 65 million 5G subscribers respectively as of the end of September 2020, adding up to at least 179 million subscribers. China Unicom has not disclosed its number of 5G subscribers.
While these numbers seem high at first glance, they represent a fraction of China’s massive 1.2 billion 4G userbase. In parallel, the country is leading the line in 5G smartphone shipments – estimated at 144 million from January to November, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology – implying that many so-called 5G subscribers are actually using 5G plans on their 4G smartphones.