Less than a month after China Unicom moved up its seven-city initial launch of 5G services to May, the Chinese government has decided to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding by officially launching 5G on a nationwide scale. The launch will coordinate three leading state-backed carriers to bring commercial 5G service to 40 Chinese cities.
China’s plan was reported today by the government-controlled newspaper China Daily, citing a source at Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE. According to the report, China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom will each have between 30,000 and 50,000 base stations deployed across 40 mainland cities by the October 1 launch date. Rollout plans for Hong Kong remain unclear.
The move is likely to give China superior national 5G coverage compared with both the United States and South Korea, which will each have at least three carriers with commercial 5G service at that point — but not on the same scale. Base stations for the Chinese launch will be provided by domestic manufacturers ZTE and Huawei, as well as Ericsson, said ZTE deputy general manager Michael Gao Wenhao.
While the “race to 5G” has had several early winners in terms of “first to roll out quasi-5G services,” “first to roll out mobile 5G services,” and “first to roll out mobile consumer 5G devices,” achieving nationwide 5G coverage is a far more complicated task — and subject to plenty of potential for fudging. Offering 5G in 40 cities across a landmass the size of China isn’t exactly comparable to achieving similar coverage in Switzerland, where two local carriers are already jousting to deliver the smaller country’s first nationwide coverage. Moreover, the actual quantity and speed of 5G coverage can vary considerably within a city, as Verizon has demonstrated in its still-limited U.S. deployments.
Chinese companies have been among the first to announce and release consumer 5G devices, so there should be no shortage of smartphone choices for customers in October. In addition to Huawei and ZTE, companies such as Lenovo, OnePlus, Oppo, and Xiaomi are all in the process of shipping their first 5G phones, alongside devices made by South Korea’s Samsung and LG, as well as technologies from U.S. companies Netgear and Qualcomm.