China builds world’s largest 5G network three years after issuance of 5G commercial licenses

By Han Xin, People’s Daily

Since the issuance of 5G commercial licenses in China three years ago, remarkable progress has been made in the country’s 5G construction.

As of the end of April, China had built over 1.6 million 5G base stations nationwide, or over 60 percent of the global total. The number of 5G mobile phone users in the country hit a record high of 413 million. Besides, China is also leading the world in the number of 5G standard-essential patents.

Apart from driving leapfrog growth in the communication industry, 5G is also injecting strong impetus into the digitalization of China’s economy and society.

Over the past three years, 5G has penetrated commercial situations in autopilot, the internet of things, smart transportation, smart healthcare, and remote education quicker than expected.

The integration of 5G into traditional industries, such as manufacturing, transportation, energy, healthcare, and education, is accelerating.

For instance, 5G network has covered underground mines and is enabling real-time communication between control stations and underground workers; 5G signal is now available between the base camp and the peak of Mt. Qomolangma; 5G network enables the high-traffic and high-speed transmission between offshore oil platforms; during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, an extra-HD livestreaming studio was established on a high-speed train running at a speed of 350 km per hour thanks to the application of the 5G technology.

So far, there have been more than 20,000 cases of 5G applications in manufacturing, healthcare, education, transportation, and mining industries, covering 40 divisions of the Chinese economy.

A 5G-enabled inspection robot inspects a power facility in Chuzhou, east China’s Anhui province together with maintenance staff, Jan. 17, 2022. (Photo by Song Weixing/People’s Daily Online)

Crossover innovation is quickening between 5G, big data, cloud computing and AI technologies and industrial sectors such as steelmaking, automobile, equipment manufacturing, electronics and petroleum. More than 2,000 “5G + industrial internet” projects are currently under construction, helping enterprises improve product quality, lower cost, and increase profit in a sustainable way.

Pursuing in-advance 5G construction to promote wider use of the technology, China has seen increasing investment in 5G development over the past three years, from 40 billion yuan ($5.97 billion) in 2019 to 170 billion yuan in 2020, and to 184.9 billion yuan in 2021.

The prospering 5G development has hastened Chinese industries’ digital transformation.

According to statistics, 5G technologies and applications contributed 1.3 trillion yuan directly to China’s total economic output in 2021, becoming a powerful engine driving China’s high-quality economic development. The integration of 5G and industrial internet will accelerate the pace of China to make itself more digital and intelligent, promote the progress of the country’s new industrialization, inject new impetus into the country’s development and create new opportunities for the global economy.

A robotic arm controlled through 5G network works in a factory in Jinhua, east China’s Zhejiang province, Dec. 13, 2021. (Photo by Hu Xiaofei/People’s Daily Online)

China enjoys a huge market and rich application scenarios for 5G, which both constitutes an advantage for China’s 5G development and raises higher requirements on 5G’s network capability and innovation.
Last July, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued an action plan of 5G development in collaboration with several other departments, requesting to promote 5G application in 15 industries, including industrial internet, finance, education and healthcare. The government work report this year also emphasized the large-scale application of the 5G technology.

“This year, the MIIT will accelerate 5G infrastructure construction, guide and expand effective investment, enhance 5G network co-building and co-sharing to expand the intensiveness and extensiveness of 5G coverage,” said Zhao Zhiguo, director general of the Bureau of Information and Communications Administration of the MIIT. According to him, China will build another 600,000 5G base stations this year.
Besides, the ministry will also establish 1,000 5G industry virtual private networks and set 100 exemplary models in 10 5G verticals to build an upgraded version of “5G + industrial internet,” Zhao noted.

So far, the 5G network has covered all prefectural-level cities and county seats in China. As investment keeps expanding and technologies maturing, 5G will inject stronger impetus into the social and economic development of China.

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