by Ray Le Maistre
China's three main operators set to invest heavily again
Number of 5G base stations expected to grow by at least
600,000 this year
Still millions of sites to be added to get ubiquitous
5G network equipment market is the
gift that keeps on giving, it seems, which is good news of course
for its domestic vendors Huawei and ZTE,
which continue to face clampdowns and competitive pressures in other
parts of the world.
Having already rolled out
about 700,000 5G sites between them in 2020, the three network
...are set to add a
further 600,000 base stations this year,
noted Xiao Yaqing, minister
of industry and information technology, during a conference held
late last year.
The minister also highlighted a focus on co-construction and
network sharing, as well as the development of 5G
applications for 10 unspecified industry verticals and the potential
release of some millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G
China Telecom and China Unicom are already sharing
their 5G radio access network rollouts, so it'll be interesting to
see if there are further asset-sharing agreements.
The investments so far are reflected in subscriber uptake.
China Mobile was on
course to invest the equivalent of US$15.2 billion in its 5G
networks in 2020 and was on course to end the year with about
330,000 5G sites.
At the end of
November it had 147.4 million 5G customers, about 15.5% of its
total mobile customer base of 943.7 million. (At the end of June
it had 114 million 5G customers.)
China Telecom and China Unicom between them were on course to
invest about $11 billion between them in their shared 5G
infrastructure last year and was set to end the year with around
400,000 5G sites.
reported 79.5 million 5G customers at the end of November last
year, almost 23% of its near 351 million mobile subscriber base.
China Unicom is not yet breaking out its 5G subscriber numbers:
At the end of
November last year it was bundling its 5G customer numbers
in with its 4G users, of which it reported 269 million, the
vast majority of a total mobile customer base of 307
The numbers, and
dedication of the Chinese operators and authorities to roll out 5G
as quickly and as broadly as possible, suggests another year of $20
billion-plus investments in 5G infrastructure, which in 2021 will
include 5G standalone core system deployments.
Huawei and ZTE will continue to be the
main vendor beneficiaries of 5G capex spending in China, while
Ericsson and another local vendor, Datang Mobile,
will also pick up a minor portion of the 5G radio access network
out of the China 5G RAN market some time ago, as it felt the margins
were too low, but is playing a role in the 5G core deployments.
And there are years of rollouts and investments to come, as Chinese
news agency Xinhua has reported an estimation by Zhang
Yunyong, president of the
China Unicom Research Institute,
that ubiquitous 5G coverage will require the deployment of 10
million 5G sites...