China rolls out 5G mobile phone technology before schedule

Three Chinese state-backed firms launched 5G mobile services earlier than expected as US trade tensions persist.

    China is set to become the world's largest provider of 5G mobile phone services as some telecoms operators in the United States and South Korea have begun introducing the technology in their home countries [File: Aly Song/Reuters]
    China is set to become the world's largest provider of 5G mobile phone services as some telecoms operators in the United States and South Korea have begun introducing the technology in their home countries [File: Aly Song/Reuters]

    China's three state telecoms companies on Thursday announced the roll out 5G mobile phone services, marking a key step in Beijing's ambitions to become a technology superpower while it remains locked in a trade war with Washington.

    China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom said on their websites and online stores that 5G plans, which start from as low as 128 yuan ($18.2) a month, will be available from Friday, allowing Chinese consumers nationwide to use the ultra-fast mobile internet service.

    However, all three had already started offering access to the service on Thursday morning.

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    Beijing had originally said it would launch the ultra-fast mobile internet service, which promises to support new features such as autonomous driving, early next year. But it accelerated its plans as tensions with the United States, especially over its boycott of telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, heated up.

    "China will have the largest commercial operating 5G network in the world on Friday, and the scale of its network and the price of its 5G services will have a pivotal impact throughout the supply chain," research firm Bernstein said in a report this week.

    Authorities have said that they plan to install more than 50,000 5G base stations across 50 Chinese cities in the country by the end of this year, and that big cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou, are already covered by the 5G network.

    More than 10 million mobile plan subscribers who have pre-registered for 5G will have access to faster videos and games, more virtual reality applications and improved performance for mobile videoconferencing.

    Smartphone companies from Xiaomi to Huawei have also unveiled new products in anticipation of the 5G roll out, with Huawei saying that it anticipates to start seeing a revenue uplift from the sector next year.

    Xiaomi said earlier this month that it plans to launch more than 10 5G phones next year and that there was a fear in the industry that consumers would stop buying 4G models.

    Despite the pressure from the US on other countries not to partner with Chinese firms for 5G technology, Huawei said in July that it had signed more than 60 commercial contracts to supply 5G networks around the world, including at least 28 in Europe.

    SOURCE: News agencies