China tops 200M 5G subs while operators move to 5G SA

According to filings by China’s state owned telcos, China now has more than 200 million “official 5G subscribers.”   China Mobile and China Telecom tallied 147.4 million and 74.9 million “5G package subscribers” respectively as of November 30, 2020.  China Mobile adding nearly 19 million subs last month.

Package subscribers” is a unique category that includes subscribers that have migrated to 5G but are still using 4G phones, which greatly overstates the actual 5G user numbers.

  • China Mobile is adding 5G subs at a fast pace, with 18.6 million adds last month and 15.2 million in October.
  • China Telecom added more than 7 million every month since August.
  • The third telco, China Unicom, has suffered a net loss of 11.4 million subs for the year to date. It had 307.1 million mobile customers at November 30, down 1.9 million on the previous month.

Some energetic price-cutting has helped. At launch time in November 2019 the lowest package price was 128 yuan ($19.57). Now many plans are being sold at 100 yuan ($15.29) or less.


Separately, the three state owned network operators are said to be close to deploying 5G standalone (SA) with a 5G core network.  China Unicom and China Telecom are leading the move.

China Telecom says its 5G standalone network is commercially available in more than 300 cities, according to Sohu.

According to THEELEC, China Unicom will expand 5G network slicing technology to the whole country next year, the company said on December 7th at a press conference in Beijing. China’s third largest telco launched 5G SA network in over 300 cities this year, the company said. Last month, it added network slicing technology to its 5G network in Beijing and Guangdong Province.

Miao Shouye, the head of China Unicom’s 5G co-construction project with China Telecom, spoke at the “2020 Communication Industry Conference and the 15th Communication Technology Annual Conference” on December 17th.  He said that “China has achieved full leadership in the 5G field.

Also, that China Unicom launched the world’s first commercial network slicing service in Beijing and Guangdong in November.  It will be commercially available nationwide next year, C114 reported.

Data shows that China has more than 700,000 5G base stations , accounting for 80% of the world’s total; 5G users exceed 160 million, accounting for 70% of the world’s total. The rapid development of networks and users has also driven the development of terminals. China’s 5G terminal shipments accounted for more than 60%, and 5G thousand yuan phones began to appear.

In Miao Shouye’s view, mobile internet is about to enter the 5G era. “It is estimated that by 2021, the penetration rate of 5G users in China will cross the 20% mark.”

In 2020, China Unicom has achieved good results in 5G co-construction and sharing. According to reports, as of the end of this year, the two parties have shared 5G base stations with a scale of 380,000 stations, realizing 5G coverage in cities and key counties at prefecture-level and above across the country, and completing the goal of jointly building “one network.” At the same time, co-construction and sharing also saves 5G expenses, CAPEX saves 40% and OPEX saves 35% annually. Based on such a co-built and shared network, the rate has been further improved, and the world’s highest 3.2Gbps peak experience rate of 200MHz full sharing is the first.

As the network is deployed, technology is constantly evolving. Miao Shouye pointed out that China Unicom is the first operator in the world to implement SA commercial networks . In June this year, China Unicom announced the commercialization of its 2B SA network; in September, the commercialization of 2C SA; in November, China Unicom achieved the world’s first commercial slicing in Beijing and Guangdong; it is expected that by 2021, 5G slicing will be commercialized nationwide.

In terms of security, China Unicom is actively building 5G security capabilities. The flexible combination of 5G network, MEC , and slice security capabilities provide multiple levels of protection capabilities to meet customized security requirements.

China Unicom continues to carry out technological innovation to enhance user experience. In October this year, China Unicom joined forces with Huawei to demonstrate the first 5G R17 FDD ultra-large bandwidth prototype device PoC field test. At the same time, China Unicom also cooperated with Huawei to carry out innovative experiments, and the throughput rate reached 4.7Gbps.

Miao Shouye believes that the 5G industry supply chain should work together from the terminal to the network to improve capabilities. At the terminal level, power consumption and heating issues need to be paid attention to; terminal network coordination still needs to be continuously strengthened; industry terminals/modules are lacking, shipments are small, and diversity is poor.

  • At the network level, 5G standards (ITU) and specifications (3GPP) continue; 5G equipment has high energy consumption and pressure on network operating costs. Network empowerment needs to be improved, such as network slicing, 5G+TSN (Time Sensitive Networking), etc.
  • At the business level, 2C killer applications still need to be explored; 5G products need to be continuously improved in practice; 2B business models need to be explored; business applications still need to be incubated.

Meanwhile, China Mobile hasn’t given a timetable for standalone deployment or services, although executives have promised they are building a “premium” SA network.


2 thoughts on “China tops 200M 5G subs while operators move to 5G SA

  1. Wow, a huge number of 5G China subscribers using both 4G and 5G devices, but without a single game-changing end-to-end 5G use case. Can we trust those 5G China numbers?

    It reminds me of the Great Leap Forward movement that happened in China between 1958 and early 1960. It was reported in all news media at that time that one Chinese acre (about 1/6 US acre) produced ten thousand catties (5,000kg) of rice. Yet no one could say no to that fake news.

    Also, the Great Leap Forward movement caused 70 million people to starve to death in 3 years. Yet the CCP covered up the starving death toll for decades. The breakdown of the Chinese economy caused the government to begin to repeal the Great Leap Forward program by early 1960.

    There are no 3GPP Release 16 implementation specifications for 5G network slicing, so what specification is being used by China’s network operators? We look forward to China Unicom disclosing its network slicing specifications, before it’s network slice deployment expands to the whole country next year (only 8 days away).

  2. John Strand of Stand Consult:

    Getting the real story on China proved difficult in 2020. The Chinese propaganda machine misleads many journalists, and many stories on Huawei originate with the company giving an exclusive interview with a friendly journalist in a preferred media. These stories portray Huawei as a helpless victim in the trade war between the US and China. Few media dare to publish an analysis comparing the operating conditions foreign companies get in China compared to the favorable treatment Chinese companies enjoy abroad. Moreover, there are few articles investigating Huawei’s role to suppress human rights in China.

    However, Huawei’s corporate practices are becoming untenable for Huawei itself. The company’s Danish communications director Tommy Zwick resigned on Twitter because he could not accept Huawei’s role in Uyghur Muslim oppression. And celebrities from sports stars to artists are cancelling their Huawei contracts. Strand Consult hopes that more people choose the path of integrity in 2021, as the focus on China’s appalling human rights record is long overdue.

    China has a dream that President Joe Biden will make life easier. Strand Consult does not subscribe to this view; if anything, rules may be tightened. Some countries will take restrictions on China a step further, outlawing its presence in communications networks altogether. See related notes here: Would a new President change the US view of the security of Huawei and ZTE in 5G networks?

    Strand Consult’s reports on 4G RAN ( are used by policymakers to understand the market share of Chinese equipment in networks and to assess associated risk. Strand Consult has also published reports to help policymakers and journalists use critical thinking to address the many claims by Huawei’s corporate communication.

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