By Stephen Chen – Jul 20, 2023
- More than 600,000 stations added by China in three months to June, compared with 100,000 for US in 2019-2021
- 3 million mark comes six months early amid Beijing’s push to boost economy, as well as drop in costs and better tech payback, industry officials say
China has exceeded its target for 5G base stations six months ahead of time, having built 3 million of them by the end of June, latest government data showed.
The figures also suggest that China is leaving the United States far behind in the 5G connectivity race, with more than 600,000 new stations added in the last three months alone.
By comparison, the US built about 100,000 5G base stations between 2019 and 2021, according to the latest available industrial estimate.
In March, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced plans to build 2.9 million 5G base stations by year-end.
“As of the end of June, the number of 5G base stations in China had reached 2.937 million, covering all urban areas of prefecture-level and county-level cities, and the coverage is continuously expanding in both breadth and depth,” MIIT chief engineer and spokesman Zhao Zhiguo said in Beijing on Wednesday.
The rapid spread of advanced communications infrastructure has sped up the technological upgrade of Chinese industries and strengthened their global competitiveness, Zhao and another senior MIIT official said.
The number of 5G base stations determines the coverage and capacity of the network. This is important for enabling new applications and services that require high-speed, low-latency connectivity, such as autonomous vehicles, remote surgery and smart factories.
Zhao said the 3 million 5G stations were connected to 676 million mobile phones and over 2.12 billion users of mobile Internet of Things (IoT) terminals, or devices connected to the internet through a 5G network – including smart home appliances, wearables and industrial sensors.
The rapid expansion of the network had in part been driven by Beijing’s push to boost economic growth, Zhao said. “We have been strengthening the construction of new information infrastructure and vigorously promoting the deep integration of the digital economy and the real economy,” he said.
Reduced cost and technological improvements had also helped to drive the rapid scale-up of the network.
The average price of a 5G module for industrial application in China has dropped below 400 yuan (US$55.41), while the energy consumption of each base station has fallen by more than 20 per cent compared with the early deployment period, according to the ministry. China first started rolling out 5G stations around 2019.
However, there have been concerns that the country’s massive investment in telecoms infrastructure might be hit by the economic slowdown of recent months.
Some critics also said it could be a waste of money as 4G, which could in theory reach a 5G-like speed of 1 Gigabit per second, could meet the needs of most consumers.
Tao Qing, director of MIIT’s operation monitoring and coordination bureau, said 5G was more about smart manufacturing than the streaming of short videos.
A large number of 5G-powered digital workshops and smart factories had been built across the country, where productivity had risen by more than a third, Tao said.
“The product development cycle of factories has been shortened by an average of 20.7 per cent [and] production efficiency has been increased by an average of 34.8 per cent,” she said.
The average defective rate of products had been reduced by more than 27 per cent, and carbon emissions cut by over a fifth on average, she added.
Zhao pointed to increased revenue for smart businesses. “In the first half of the year, the revenue of emerging businesses such as internet data centers, big data, cloud computing and IoT increased by 19.2 per cent year-on-year, driving telecommunications service revenue growth by 3.7 percentage points.”
He said adoption and integration of 5G technology had spread to more than 40 sectors of China’s economy, including industry, healthcare, education and transport.
In more than 100 cities and over 1,000 industrial parks, 5G is helping hundreds of thousands Chinese enterprises to improve their global competitiveness in the global market, Zhao added.
The technology is also supporting the development of smart cities with real-time monitoring and control of traffic flow, energy consumption and environmental conditions, to help optimize resource allocation and improve the quality of life.
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