China Telecom has unveiled a new network and commercial strategy combining 5G, the cloud and AI.
Announcing the plan at a company event last week, chairman and CEO Ke Ruiwen said cloud-network convergence and 5G were the two biggest projects for the company this year.
He said 5G was not just a basestation and transmission network, but complemented and integrated with NB-IoT, cloud, big data and AI.
AI was important to all facets of 5G, from network planning and construction to service provision, operations and business innovation, he said.
"The combination of cloud network convergence and 5G, coupled with the empowerment of AI, enables us to create an IoT network that supports an intelligent IoT platform that can serve our customers," he said.
Ke also said the recently concluded network-sharing agreement with China Unicom would mean a faster rollout and more efficient use of 5G network resources.
"We each maintain the independence of the brand and will use the cost savings for business innovation and differentiated services for our users."
China Telecom says it will invest 9 billion yuan ($1.26 billion) in its 5G rollout this year, with a target of approximately 40,000 basestations in 50 cities by year end.
Ke confirmed that the company was aiming for its 5G standalone (SA) network to be ready next year but would not put a target date on it.
China Telecom has carried out 17 hybrid non-standalone (NSA)/SA and SA field trials, including the country's first end-to-end standalone network slicing trial, and built its own mobile edge computing platform.
Ke said 5G required broad collaboration across industries and along the value chain.
China Telecom is working with more than 200 5G eco-partners and 45 joint innovation members, as well as various industry alliances.
It has set a target of creating more than 1,000 5G industry applications for 100 5G customers in fields such as intelligent manufacturing, smart medical care and smart port services.
It also says it is working with device manufacturers to build 5G phones that it can sell for below 2,000 yuan ($281) in the first half of 2020.
Lu Liangjun, China Telecom's vice president of marketing, said a government survey had forecast Chinese consumers would buy 170 million 5G devices next year, of which 60 million would be from China Telecom.
China Telecom sold 71 million 4G phones last year and expects to sell approximately 100 million this year.
China Telecom's cloud and ICT services businesses have become its biggest growth engine, with sales up nearly 20% in the first half of 2019 and accounting for just under 17% of total revenue.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading