The China 5G juggernaut will move into top gear in 2020 with plans to expand to 300 cities and deploy as many as 680,000 basestations.
Since receiving their licenses in June, the three operators have announced plans to deploy 90,000 basestations by the end of 2019.
Wang Zhiqin, vice president of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), said this would mean continuous coverage in ten major cities and limited coverage in another 40 cities.
But that will scale up dramatically next year after the three operators start commercial service.
Wang told an industry conference in Chengdu Tuesday that 5G would extend to all 300 cities at prefectural level and above.
A local news report also quoted an MIIT source as saying 680,000 basestations would be deployed by the end of next year.
Wang noted that both China Mobile and China Telecom were aggressively targeting standalone 5G, which she expects to be possible from the middle of 2020.
She said a CAICT study had forecast that the biggest single use case for 5G would be the industrial Internet, accounting for 23% of demand, followed by AR/VR (18%), HD video and the electricity industry (both 15%).
While industrial 5G was still in its initial phase, its value was clear, she said. The early round of industry apps is dominated by high-definition video services, such as remote operation and inspection.
But Wang singled out national power company, State Grid, as a major 5G partner and customer. It had already become a talking point because of its huge fiber network capacity and its involvement in a number of 5G trials.
Use cases included smart metering and drone inspection and maintenance, while 5G would also help automate electricity distribution and support the transformation to grid-as-a-service, she said.
Also at the conference, Huang Yuhong, deputy general manager of the China Mobile Research Institute, gave a broad view of China Mobile's 5G efforts to drive 5G beyond its basestation rollout.
She said the operator was leading 30 projects in 3GPP and ITU and had applied for 1,200 5G patents.
It has set up a series innovation projects that have drawn in hundreds of partners.
These include: a chain of 5G innovation centers nationwide, including 25 open labs involving 70 telecom partners and 400 industry partners; a mobile edge computing Open Lab with 34 partners; an alliance to drive industrial IoT innovation; and the formation of a 30 billion yuan (US$4.2 billion) 5G innovation fund.
China Mobile is also working with chip and device manufacturers to get the device supply to scale, Huang said.
To date, 42 5G products have been lined up in four categories, including 13 smartphones from companies including Huawei, Oppo and Samsung.
For more on this topic, see:
- Analyst Firms Are Raising Their Global 5G Forecasts
- China Unicom, Telecom On Course for 5G Network Sharing
- China's 5G Market Has Teething Trouble
- 5G: Too Big Even for China?
- China's Early 5G Move Doesn't Erase Huawei Doubts
- China Finally Lights Its 5G Fire
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading