After building the world’s largest 5G network with 2.3 million 5G base stations by the end of 2022, China is on track add over 600,000 5G base stations and reach 2.9 million by the end 2023, according to new Omdia market research (owned by Informa). A key milestone in terms of China’s co-building and co-sharing 5G networks recently took place in May 2023, through the 5G network collaboration between all the four service providers in China. Under the organization and guidance of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the four major mobile operators in China – China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Broadnet, jointly announced the launch of what they claimed as the world’s first 5G inter-network roaming service trial. The service enables customers to access other telecom operators’ 5G networks and continue using 5G services when outside the range of their original operators’ 5G network.
Ramona Zhao, Research Manager at Omdia said: “Omdia expects inter-network roaming to improve operators’ 5G network coverage particularly in rural areas. Driven by better 5G network coverage, 5G will overtake 4G’s leading position and become the largest technology in China’s mobile market by 2026. By the end of 2028, we anticipate 5G will account for 65.1% of the total mobile subscriptions (including IoT connections).”
An advertisement for 5G mobile service at Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Image Credit: DIGITIMES
Omdia deems China as a 5G pioneer in terms of many areas, including technology innovation, network deployment, and 5G use cases. Driven by the increasing 5G adoption, Chinese service providers’ mobile service revenue and reported mobile (non-IoT) ARPU have all achieved year-on-year (YoY) growth in 2022. China Telecom reported an increase of 3.7% in its mobile service revenue; China Unicom‘s mobile service revenue saw a YoY increase of 3.6%; while China Mobile’s mobile service revenue also increased by 2.5% YoY.
Owing to the digital transformation demand from various state-owned enterprises, cloud services are also considered a growing business for Chinese service providers.
“Omdia recommends that Chinese service providers innovate more applications through the integration of cloud and the 5G network. This will be vital to enable the digital transformation of various industries and the acquisition of new revenue streams,” concludes Zhao.
According to a previous GSMA report, dubbed “The Mobile Economy China 2023”, 5G technology will add $290 billion to the Chinese economy in 2030, with benefits spread across industries.
“Mainland China is the largest 5G market in the world, accounting for more than 60% of global 5G connections at the end of 2022. With strong takeup of 5G among consumers, the focus of operators is now increasingly shifting to 5G for enterprises. This offers opportunities to grow revenues beyond connectivity in adjacent areas such as cloud services – a segment where operators in China have recently made significant progress,” the GSMA report reads.
5G will overtake 4G in 2024 to become the dominant mobile technology in China, according to the report. “4G and 5G dominance in China means legacy networks are now being phased out. While most users have been migrated to 4G and 5G, legacy networks continue to support various IoT services. However, some estimates suggest that legacy networks could be almost entirely shut down in China by 2025,” the study reads.
Chinese vendor Huawei Technologies has secured over half of a major contract to deploy 5G mobile base stations for local carrier China Mobile, according to recent reports by Chinese media.
Huawei obtained over 50% of the total of China Mobile’s centralized procurement program in 2023.
The report also stated that Huawei will provide 5G base stations for different frequency bands. The bands ranging from 2.6 GHz to 4.9 GHz will have around 63,800 stations, divided into two projects, while the number of base stations to operate in the 700 MHz band will be 23,100, divided into three projects. ZTE was the second-biggest winner in terms of base stations, followed by Datang Mobile Communications Equipment, Ericsson and Nokia Shanghai Bell.