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China releases 700MHz for 5G

New entrant China Broadcast Network (CBN) has finally acquired its slice of 700MHz, but it is still seeking partners to help build its 5G business.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) approved the repurposing of the former analog broadcast spectrum for mobile communications on April 1.

CBN has exclusive rights to the much-coveted band, having been awarded 80MHz with its 5G license last June.

Announcing the decision, the MIIT declared the domestic industry had now formed a "relatively complete" industry chain for 700MHz. That may be true for vendors but it is not the case for the sole service provider.

Table 1: China 5G spectrum allocation

Operator Assigned spectrum Total Shared spectrum
China Mobile 2515-2675MHz 160MHz
China Mobile 4800-4900MHz 100MHz
China Telecom 3400-3500MHz 100MHz 3300-3400MHz (indoor)
China Unicom 3500-3600MHz 100MHz 3300-3400 MHz (indoor)
China Broadcast Network 703-798MHz 80MHz 3300-3400 MHz (indoor)
China Broadcast Network 4.9GHz (trial) TBC
Source: MIIT

CBN, with income of around $11 billion from cable TV services, lacks the financial scale to build a national network and compete against three big telco incumbents.

It has business partners such as Alibaba and financial group Citic, but to have any chance of surviving it will need to take some on fresh shareholders as China Unicom has done.

It also needs a telco ally to help share the rollout cost, estimated to be at least 60 billion yuan (US$8.5 billion).

China Mobile is the obvious choice. Apart from being the only operator without a partner, China Mobile has also been assigned 4.9GHz spectrum. CBN has been running trials in that band since early this year.

China Mobile chairman Yang Jie acknowledged during the company's recent results announcement that the two companies had had discussions.

CBN has also been linked to utility giant State Grid, which has aspirations in digital energy services and to run its own private 5G network. It also offers 2.9 million potential cellsite locations.

CBN's immediate problem is to clear the frequencies of existing broadcasters.

The investment required to migrate existing broadcast services away from the analog band would total more than 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion), tech website DoNews reported.

The costs are to be borne by those occupying the spectrum, not CBN.

But even though this week's decision will accelerate the process, it will take some time. It is not clear how much is currently available.

The MIIT said the release of the 700MHz band was essential to ensure China's 5G was supported in low, medium and high spectrum bands.

With its broad propagation capability, the newly available spectrum would aid in wide-area coverage and support massive device connections, MIIT said.

For more on this topic, see:

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

appstatus 4/3/2020 | 1:22:10 PM
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