Just like the United States and South Korea, China made major strides in rolling out 5G network services to paying customers in 2019 but still has plenty of cities left to cover. Today, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology set a major goal for 2020, saying that it aims to offer 5G in every one of the country’s prefecture-level cities by the end of next year.
A majority of China’s land is divided into nearly 300 prefecture-level cities — municipalities combining small urban centers with larger rural areas — reflecting the sprawling country’s need for regional governments to oversee low-population areas. Under the Ministry’s plan, China will spend 2020 building out 5G service from roughly 50 currently covered cities to the 300 prefectural areas, a process the country says will “deepen the universal service of telecommunications” while improving its existing 5G networks’ quality.
China’s three top carriers are partially owned by the government, and their actions are coordinated from above, most recently with a focus on spurring quick adoption of 5G using affordable data plans. China Mobile operates one of the country’s two 5G networks, while rivals China Telecom and China Unicom share another to make better combined use of base stations and towers. All of the carriers are using sub-6GHz mid-band 5G technology, rather than higher speed, shorter distance millimeter wave.
As of today, China says over 126,000 5G base stations are operating across the country, and carriers are working to clean up various problems experienced by customers, including harassing calls, fake base stations, and app-related issues. In 2020, the government is planning initiatives to further reduce network fees — including for impoverished and disabled users — as well as preparing for industrial internet access and vehicular networking.
Widening 5G coverage across greater stretches of land will be critical to expanding the availability of both traditional and new data services. As just one example, China is expected to take an early lead in deploying cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology next year, enabling cars to communicate with each other and traffic infrastructures to enhance safety and autonomy. By comparison, the United States is still in the process of allocating spectrum for C-V2X, with initial hardware support expected from major automakers in 2021 and 2022.