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Coronavirus to hit China 5G rollout, fiber supply

It's early days, but the signs are China's massive 5G rollout and its fiber component supply are going to take a hit from the coronavirus outbreak.

China's huge workforce was officially back on the job on Monday but no one has any idea of how many factories are operating at capacity because of the strict health rules in place.

Media reports reveal that factories are operating at well below full production and don't know when all their employees will be able to return.

One obvious impact of the manufacturing slowdown will be on China's 5G rollout, with suppliers of key components reporting difficulties in resuming production.

An optical cable vendor, Tongding Interconnection, which hopes to bid for some 5G backhaul contracts, says a number of its staff have yet to return to work, according to Economic Observer newspaper.

The company has some inventory from prior to the Lunar New Year holiday, but can't get it to customers because logistics firms have also been badly hit by the virus.

In Guangdong, the home of China's hi-tech manufacturing – but also, after Hubei, the province most affected by the virus – factories are struggling to comply with government health requirements.

FlyinFiber Communication, a Shenzhen optical components supplier, said it had been unable to meet the conditions to resume production.

Fewer than half of its 600 employees had been allowed to return to work. It had been difficult to check on the condition of all of them and to confirm whether they were permitted to resume work, an official told the Economic Observer.

The company has sought permission for more than 100 staff to be allowed to return next Monday, but so far has received no response.

Tongyu Communication, which makes 5G basestation antennas for big equipment vendors such as ZTE and Ericsson, has been told by the Guangzhou city government that it can only partly resume production.

The large fiber component suppliers are also badly hit. Two of the big five fiber preform producers, YOFC and Fiberhome, have major facilities in or near Wuhan, according to research firm CRU.

Wuhan, which accounts for more than 20% of Chinese preform capacity, is currently under indefinite lockdown.

A report from stockbroking firm China Securities said none of these manufacturers were expected to reach full capacity in the short term and warned investors should not be overly optimistic.


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On the operator side, the big three telcos have not made any disclosures about their workforces, but – with around 850,000 employees between them – they have significant health checks to carry out.

It will be some time before the installation crews from the telcos and China Tower reach full strength. Their aim at the end of 2019 was to take 5G to more than 300 cities this year. (See China's 5G Rollout to Reach 300 Cities in 2020 .)

A report on a meeting of senior MIIT officials on Wednesday acknowledged "the negative impact on the communications supply industry" as a result of the epidemic.

They agreed that problems included insufficient demand, difficulties in component supply and production and operation issues, the report said.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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