China telcos foreshadow AI services at MWC Shanghai

All four Chinese operators have 5G-A plans but shared few specifics during MWC Shanghai.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

June 28, 2024

2 Min Read
Shanghai skyline at night.
(Source: Li Yang/Unsplash)

MWC Shanghai is a heavily China-centric event these days, which isn’t popular with everybody, but it means we get a glimpse into the thinking of the usually secretive Chinese operators.

This year, they confirmed they don't have spectacular AI ambitions like their Korean neighbors, who are getting into AI model production and partnering with hyperscalers. Instead, the Chinese telcos’ main contribution to the national AI effort is their big cloud and computing deployments.

Still, China Mobile Chairman Yang Jie told MWC the company would build an AI system for enterprise that supported intelligent computing, along LLMs for industry verticals, MaaS (model as a service) and AI applications.

In a similar vein, China Telecom Chairman Ke Ruiwen said the operator is aiming to serve traditional industry through integration of 5G, cloud, AI and applications.

One of the biggest topics for the Chinese firms is the low-altitude economy, now a national priority project, encompassing drones, eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) taxis, the Beidou navigation system, LEO satellites and 5G.

The telco chiefs all stressed that 5G-Advanced, with its greater bandwidth and much improved latency, was critical to the development of the segment.

No specifics

Yet while “beyond 5G” might have been one of the main MWC themes, we saw few concrete plans from the Chinese players.

Even China Mobile, which says it began its 5G-A deployment in March, had little fresh information. It has said it will roll out in 300 cities, though it has not given a timetable or any updates on its progress.

China Mobile Vice President Li Huidi said the operator was upgrading to 5G-A in stages and doesn't expect to achieve large-scale deployment until 2025 or 2026.

China Telecom and newcomer China Broadnet both made announcements that were also light on specifics.

China Telecom unveiled what it calls a 5G-Advanced "action plan," with no commitments to a rollout, while China Broadnet said, without elaborating, it had already launched its 5G-A network. China Unicom said it had begun a commercial pilot.

Out in the MWC exhibition hall, China Mobile demonstrated what it claimed was the industry's first 5G-A cross-sensory, or synesthetic, platform, potentially combining AR, VR and haptic feedback. It is planning to build a test network in the 4.9GHz band across southern China.

China Telecom showed off low-altitude products including drone logistics and a real-time drone management and control system, integrating Beidou and a 4G/5G airborne terminal.

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech ( 

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like