February 24, 2020
China's top leadership and the mobile industry have vowed not to let the coronavirus outbreak get in the way of 5G.
China Unicom and China Telecom are bringing forward their 5G rollout while China Mobile says its 2020 target is unchanged.
Their commitments come amid directives from the communist party leadership and the MIIT for a faster 5G buildout, according to financial paper China Security Times.
Last Friday the CCP politburo proposed 5G as one of a number of key projects to be accelerated to help revive the virus-hit economy.
The MIIT, which supervises the telecom industry, reaffirmed the directive over the weekend.
China Unicom and its rollout partner China Telecom agreed at a special conference last Thursday to speed up their 5G buildout.
The two telcos, which last year struck an agreement to jointly build and share their 5G networks, committed to deploying 250,000 basestations by the end of the third quarter – one quarter ahead of schedule. (See China Spices Things Up With 2-Become-1 5G Plan.)
In the first half of 2020 they expect to roll out 100,000 basestations in 47 cities, China Security Times reported.
As of February 20, the two operators had put into service 64,000 5G basestations nationwide.
Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.
China Unicom also says it will upgrade to standalone 5G some time this year, although it did not specify when.
It did not eleborate on how its 5G plans and other network operations had been affected by COVID-19, as the coronavirus is now officially called.
However, it acknowledges that the production of some key network components will be limited as a result of the epidemic.
"After the epidemic is over, batch orders will be placed, and the supply cycle of some manufacturers will be extended," it said.
It said it would work with China Telecom to tender jointly for 5G equipment and to "drive the major equipment manufacturers to accelerate capacity recovery."
Speaking at the MIIT meeting on the weekend, China Mobile CFO Dong Xin likewise gave no details on the impact of the epidemic on the operator.
But he said China Mobile was "actively promoting the resumption of 5G construction. The goal of reaching 300,000 5G basestations at the end of 2020 remains unchanged."
China Mobile has completed first phase of its 5G rollout, with commercial service in 50 cities. At the end of January, it had put 74,000 5G basestations into service.
In the wake of the news, the share prices of China Mobile and China Unicom dipped 0.98% and 0.46% respectively on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, while China Telecom was up 0.37%.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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