A visitor shoots a video of a robot during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai 2021 on Feb 23, while Chinese and foreign exhibitors display their 5G products in artificial intelligence, the internet of things and smart homes. (FANG ZHE / XINHUA)
China's efforts to quicken the rollout of the fifth-generation or 5G wireless technology will spawn a wide range of new applications in the consumer and industrial sectors, senior company executives and experts said.
That, in turn, will accelerate the strong momentum already propelling the development of the nation's digital economy, they said.
Their comments follow the 2021 Government Work Report that said China will step up the development of 5G networks and extend the application of the superfast wireless technology in more settings.
That's not all. According to an outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for national economic and social development and the long-range objectives through the year 2035, the nation will accelerate the large-scale deployment of 5G networks and increase its penetration rate to 56 percent over the next five years.
Taken together, the report and the outline clearly indicate that the next five years are a crucial period for 5G development in China, said Wang Zhiqin, deputy head of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government think tank.
China is likely to achieve several breakthroughs in its technological evolution, network construction and applications, Wang said.
By the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), China will have built the world's largest and most extensive stand-alone 5G network and basically achieve full network coverage in urban and rural areas.
Wang Zhiqin, deputy head of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology
"By the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), China will have built the world's largest and most extensive stand-alone 5G network and basically achieve full network coverage in urban and rural areas."
This year, China will build more than 600,000 5G base stations, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the top industry regulator in China.
The plan follows the nation's investment of more than 260 billion yuan (US$40 billion) to build the world's largest 5G network so far.
Over 718,000 5G base stations have been built across China by the end of last year, accounting for roughly 70 percent of the world's total.
5G signals are now available in more than 300 cities at prefecture level and above, the ministry said.
The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology estimated that Chinese telecom operators' investment in 5G network construction is likely to reach 1.2 trillion yuan by 2025.
An additional investment of 3.5 trillion yuan is likely to flow into the upstream and downstream segments of the industrial chain as well as other related areas.
Senior company executives said such an extensive 5G rollout plan will lay a solid foundation for the use of the superfast wireless technology in the consumer and industrial sectors, and help businesses accelerate their ongoing efforts for digital transformation.
Ding Yun, president of Huawei's carrier business group, said: "5G is no longer for early adopters. It is improving our daily lives. 2021 will be the first year with large-scale 5G industry applications. Operators will need new capabilities in network planning, deployment, maintenance, optimization and operations, in order to achieve 'Zero to One', and replicate success from one to many."
According to Ding, Huawei's 5G applications have already been deployed in more than 20 industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, education and logistics. The technology has already proved its worth in coal mining, steelmaking and manufacturing by making production safer, more intelligent, and more efficient.
In February, the Chinese tech heavyweight unveiled its new 5G solution for businesses, as it aims to scale up the application of the superfast wireless technology in a greater variety of sectors.
Building on its experience in connectivity, computing, and industry digitalization, Huawei has worked with telecom operators and other industry partners to develop a one-stop solution that covers sales, operations and services－the 5G-to-B solution.
This solution will simplify transactions for enterprise users, help operators monetize their network capabilities, and allow partners to innovate more efficiently, creating new value for every player involved, Ding said.
Huawei said it has worked with telecom operators, partners and enterprise users to apply the 5G-to-B solution first in the steel industry.
With their capabilities and experience embedded into this platform, industrial 5G solutions like automated billet rotation, augmented-reality-assisted remote assembly, and steel surface quality inspection can be standardized and rapidly replicated, Huawei said.
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During the Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai 2021, China Unicom displays the application of 5G millimeter wave in Winter Olympics scenarios. (WANG GANG / FOR CHINA DAILY)
Such efforts follow the 5G industry's faster-than-expected development, with operators already seeing commercial returns from the first wave of 5G rollouts.
The 5G user base and the number of 5G devices in commercial use have also exploded since 2019.
By the end of 2020, 380 5G device models had hit the Chinese market, an eightfold increase from that in 2019. The mobile 5G user base had also reached 220 million, up 17 times year-on-year, while 5G wireless home broadband connections reached 1.05 million, up 21 times year-on-year, according to data from Huawei.
Sihan Bo Chen, China head of the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), a telecom industry body, said: "5G is shaping the future, and China will continue to be at the forefront of this change.
"Every sector is undergoing deep transformation, and connected progress will stimulate global recovery and help the world overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Sixty-one countries and territories across the world had 144 commercial 5G networks as of January. More than 400 operators in 131 countries are investing in 5G networks through tests, pilot projects and planned or actual deployments, reflecting the mounting enthusiasm for the wireless technology, according to the GSMA.
New 5G-powered consumer applications such as watching virtual reality-enabled 5G live concerts are also popping up to attract users.
China now is also working to accelerate the industrialization of millimeter-wave and new intermediate-frequency 5G base stations that are capable of supporting fast uploads, low latency, large connections and high-precision positioning.
Last month, the United States chip giant Qualcomm Inc showcased rich applications enabled by 5G millimeter wave by partnering with China Unicom, a major telecom carrier in the nation.
Such application cases include athletic competition experience, 5G mixed reality smart ski resort, 8K video streaming, 5G 360-degree event service and free-view live events, and 5G millimeter wave panoramic experience.
Mai Yanzhou, vice-president of China Unicom, said 5G millimeter wave is an important component of 5G, and 5G is an integral part of China's national development.
"As the only telecom operator partner of the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022, China Unicom is dedicated to driving accelerated development of the industrial chain by conducting 5G millimeter wave pilots and trials in Winter Olympics scenarios."
Frank Meng, chairman of Qualcomm China, said: "5G innovation is at the core of digital transformation in which millimeter wave is an indispensable enabling technology. This joint effort with industry leaders such as China Unicom to show 5G millimeter wave achievements and potential is the latest testament to Qualcomm's investment in 5G technology R&D, commercialization and ecosystem development for over a decade.
"Qualcomm will continue to work with the expanding 5G ecosystem to fully unlock the potential of 5G with leading technologies such as millimeter wave and accelerate 5G expansion to benefit more consumers and industries with diverse 5G devices and use cases."
Not just consumers and industries, the development of the entire digital economy is certain to receive a massive fillip, said Zhao Juntao, president of Ericsson China.
He said he is enthused by the fact that China is accelerating its development of "new infrastructure" innate to 5G and other emerging technologies.
The Swedish telecom equipment maker said it will work with telecom operators to build better 5G networks, drive innovative applications of 5G in thousands of business segments and provide a better network experience for individual users and businesses.
"Looking back on 129 years of development in the Chinese market, Ericsson is the only communications technology company to participate in the construction of China's telecommunications infrastructure from 1G to 5G. In the future, we will continue this tradition," Zhao said.
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