China is building 5G at a cracking pace, but the big three telcos and partner China Tower are grappling with problems familiar to other operators.
Their biggest headache is site acquisition.
The higher frequencies and denser configuration of 5G mean more sites are required, but building tenants are rejecting new basestations either for financial reasons, radiation fears or because they don't trust the operators.
In one case in Changsha, southern China, residents objected to the tower on their roof because they felt they had been misled, according to a report in China Business Network.
They had been told the white installation was a water tank or a small power box, and after climbing onto the roof were surprised to find white boxes containing a cell site.
Some of them asked the building manager, which provided power for the cell sites, to cut off the electricity supply.
The general manager of the local China Tower branch, Ding Zeshen, says said the equipment had been designed to resemble air-conditioning equipment in order to blend into the environment, not to disguise it.
But he admitted that tenant objections to basestations were common in Changsha and around the country.
A local lawyer, You Haoran, said he believed the main reason for the disputes was that the operators or tower company were selecting sites without any consultation with residents, raising suspicions.
Then there's the radiation scare. Like telcos everywhere, Chinese operators are being confronted with claims over 5G radiation impacts.
It's not reported much in the media, but one sign of the extent of the problem is the amount of government material denying any such threat exists, such as this Q&A with the director of the State Radio Monitoring Center Testing Center.
Another sign is the reports of apartment block residents refusing to allow 5G towers on their roofs.
For example, last October residents in a district in Chengdu complained that "interference" from cell towers affected their "normal life." Despite repeat visits from local officials, they could not be persuaded to accept the cellsite, forcing operators to tear it down.
In another account, a telecom technician in Shanghai tells of residents gathering to cheer when he dismantled a cell tower on their building, IT Times reports.
The head of the China Tower Research Institute, Dou Yu, says apart from these problems the 5G rollout is being slowed by the demands for high site rentals.
He calls for new construction standards that would ensure that new buildings, roads and pipe networks would include specifications for supporting communication infrastructure.
Huang Jie, a professor at the Law School of Hunan Normal University, believes operators need support from the law to support basestation acquisition. He says they are are hampered by the lack of a telecommunications law and must rely on a single industry regulation introduced 19 years ago.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading