Under the reign of President Xi Jinping, China is aiming to become the world’s biggest economy and a leader in technology research and development.
China has been at the forefront of efforts to develop the next generation of mobile technology, seeking to challenge the dominance of Europe and the United States.
As industry professionals are finalizing the technical standards for the 5G mobile communications technology, China is also busy preparing to deploy its own 5G mobile network and aiming to start commercial operation by 2020.
The 5G era could unveil a new market landscape for the three state-owned mobile operators, as mobile penetration has reached its peak and the government continues to intervene in pricing and service offerings.
Needless to say, 5G is the next big leap in wireless communications. It will radically improve the bandwidth, capacity and reliability of mobile broadband, offering data transmission speed of at least 10 Gbps, which is much faster than existing home fiber broadband services.
We should also remember that 5G is a technology that goes beyond people-to-people communications. It’s a technology that supports not only people-to-people but also people-to-machine as well as machine-to-machine communications.
Through compatible sensors and low-cost transmitters on a wide range of devices, 5G enables the transmission of data from the network back to the servers for monitoring and analytics.
Such a technology is called the Internet of Things. It can, for example, enable a public utility firm to check the volume of gas a household uses through a smart meter, thus doing away with the usual method of sending a technician to record the gas meter reading at the kitchen.
Carmakers can also benefit from 5G by deploying the V2X technology, which allows cars to communicate with each other and thus avoid traffic accidents.
These new technologies and applications may seem like science fiction at the moment for smartphone users, but many vendors and operators are racing to make them available to the public in the next decade once 5G is launched.
From the mobile operators’ perspective, 5G may not be a high-return investment given the many uncertainties that lie ahead before its commercial launch. For example, how much can operators charge their subscribers if regulators continue to urge them to lower service fees for mobile internet?
China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are preparing for a commercial trial of 5G technology later this year, but it is understandable if all of them adopt a prudent approach when it comes to investments as they have yet to find a business model that will make 5G a truly sustainable commercial proposition.
Market leader China Mobile is searching for relevant applications as it sets up a fund to promote the development and maturity of 5G mobile communications technology. The plan is part of the company’s broader goal of commercializing the technology by 2020.
After all, the new technology is no longer limited to voice and data communications, but could also be applied to self-driving cars and streaming of virtual reality games.
Virtual reality, in fact, is emerging as one of China Mobile’s key 5G offerings. It has partnered with Taiwan’s HTC recently. Their collaboration is initially focused on the commercial trial of 5G devices.
But given HTC’s focus on virtual reality hardware development in recent years, it is very likely that China Mobile would leverage on HTC’s expertise in virtual reality to enrich its service offerings and content.
China Unicom, which is now backed by a number of private investors after its mixed ownership reform, aims to cement its market position by setting up a research center with Tencent and Baidu.com to push technology development.
Its joint laboratory with Tencent will focus on research and development of key technologies and business applications such as edge computing, network slicing and high-accuracy positioning services.
The laboratory with Baidu will work on how to better integrate artificial intelligence with 5G, with emphasis on internet-enabled vehicles and big data technology.
Baidu and Tencent are both strategic investors in China Unicom as part of the latter’s broader mixed-ownership reform.
China Telecom, meanwhile, is teaming up with Nokia and Intel to develop an AI-supported cloud network for the delivery of services with extremely low latency (minimal delay) to the mass market.
But it seems that all the operators are still focusing on 5G development rather than pushing for the rollout of the technology to the mass market.
After all, the first 5G handset will not be available in the market until late next year.
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