China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, will launch what it describes as the world’s largest 5G trial network across five Chinese cities this year, according to a report by RCR Wireless. The announcement coincides with a new Chinese government mandate requiring sharp cuts to cellular data prices as high-speed coverage expands.
Initially, China Mobile’s 5G trial network will place over 500 total base stations across Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Wuhan to provide outdoor 5G service. The carrier also said that it will launch smaller-scale, app-focused trials in 12 more cities, including Beijing and Shenzhen. Collectively, the cities appear to represent the widest 5G deployment announced by any carrier for 2018.
While China Mobile is describing the new networks as being for testing purposes, they are likely first steps towards the carrier’s previously promised 2018 launch of pre-commercial 5G service in China, which is expected to continue through 2020 with over 10,000 base station deployments. China’s government prioritized 5G testing years ago with the aim of leading the world in 5G adoption, completing second-phase testing last September; Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, and ZTE all participated in the tests.
With over 890 million customers, including over 650 million on 4G/LTE networks, China Mobile is an even more dominant carrier in China than Verizon or AT&T is in the United States. The five-city test network is comparable to Verizon’s plan to offer 5G in three to five cities by the end of this year, though China Mobile is more likely to focus on portable than fixed 5G devices at the offset. Most of China Mobile’s trial networks will operate on the 3.5GHz band, unlike Verizon’s, which are expected to use highly position-sensitive millimeter wave radios for fixed home/office broadband service.
The large-scale 5G announcement comes as China Mobile told investors about new Chinese government requirements announced today at the country’s Thirteenth National People’s Congress. Under a newly announced policy, China is requiring China Mobile to fully cover urban and rural areas with broadband service, expand Internet access in public places, eliminate data roaming charges, and reduce mobile data charges by at least 30 percent this year.
While the requirements could be seen as hitting China Mobile’s pocketbook at the exact time when it needs funds to build its new network — a huge problem facing 5G in many countries — the company is controlled and largely owned by the Chinese government. Despite the challenges, China Mobile said that it “believes that the aforesaid state policy requirements will accelerate the Company’s transformation in data traffic operation and digital services in the long run.”