With its 5G commercial launch under its belt, China Mobile has set out its 5G enterprise strategy, putting cloud services at the center.
It launched a new platform called "ecloud" and intends to spend "hundreds of billions of yuan" -- roughly tens of billions of dollars -- on growing the business.
Wan Guoguang, head of China Mobile's cloud capability center, said cloud services would become one of the company's important segments.
"In the next three years or so, we will invest hundreds of billions of yuan to build a cloud business that belongs to the first level in China," Wan told the annual partner conference in Guangzhou last week.
He said China Mobile would build cloud infrastructure across the country, including "a large number" of edge computing nodes.
China Mobile generated more than RMB200 million ($28.5 million) from its software-as-a-service (SaaS) launched last year, with more than 1,000 SaaS applications available and more than 200,000 active SaaS users.
The other key part of China Mobile's new cloud business is "5G Network as a Service."
Vice President Li Zhengmao describes it as a new, open model that is flexible, customizable and could be fully integrated into users' applications.
It was unveiled in June as part of the telco's 5G+ plus strategy.
The operator was targeting 14 key verticals including manufacturing, energy, transportation, medical care, education and smart city.
Working with industry partners, it had already created 100 5G application solutions.
But he said 5G still faced many basic problems, including high capex and opex, teething problems of 5G features and the need for continuous optimization.
But it's not all cloud. The state-owned telco is also banking on its investments in portfolio companies.
It is considering setting up a RMB1 billion ($143 million) venture capital fund, according to Yuan Lihua, vice-president of China Mobile Investment Corporation (CMIC).
He said since it was founded three years ago CMIC has tipped RMB180 billion ($25.7 billion) into more than 40 projects, last year contributing about 10% of net earnings.
Direct investments total RMB136 billion ($19.4 billion), while RMB35 billion ($5 billion) has gone to funds and RMB9 billion ($1.3 billion) into convertible bonds, Yuan said.
He said the new fund would likely focus on early-stage investments in fields such as AI, IoT, cloud computing and big data.
China Mobile already has a direct stake in cloud storage and data analytics firm Ucloud, and indirectly has invested in AI firm iFlytek and handset brand Xiaomi.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading