BARCELONA -- MWC 2018 -- China Mobile has confirmed its aggressive 5G plans, with large-scale trials launching later this year and the world's only standalone rollout set to begin in 2020.
China Mobile Communications Corp. will run field trials in Shanghai, Hangzhou and three other cities from as early as the second quarter of this year, with at least 100 basestations deployed in each.
It will deploy small-scale "apps demonstration" trials in a dozen other cities, including Beijing and Shenzhen, according to Chinese industry site c114.
Liu Guangyi, CTO for terminal and wireless technology at China Mobile Research Institution, says the trial networks will mostly run in the 3.5GHz band, with some 4.9GHz being deployed.
He told a Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 5G forum in Barcelona this week that the focus would be on testing key technologies such as massive MIMO outdoor and network slicing.
"After the [5G] standard is finished we can upgrade the software and then conduct tests for a pre-commercial system. Then we can offer a pre-commercial customer experience in the second half of next year," he said.
Liu made it clear the Chinese firm would go ahead with a standalone deployment, despite the extra cost.
A GSMA Intelligence report last year noted that scale economies of a standalone deployment would be "significant" for a national rollout, but that it "is likely to prove more expensive at least in the early stages."
Liu said the biggest challenge for 5G was delivering the diverse capabilities expected, especially in industry verticals.
For 5G to address all these use cases, "we need a brand new 5G. Not just the radio part but also the new-generation core networks. Only with all of them can we pave the way to empower enterprises and vertical markets," he said.
Just the new radio alone wouldn't meet the promise of flexible and fast deployment for different usage scenarios.
"So we say a totally new system is needed -- a next-generation core network which can provide us with end-to-end 5G capabilities.
"You can have network slicing, MEC [mobile edge computing] and also provide a customized user experience for enterprise and vertical industries. We do believe that is the way for 5G to develop."
Guang Yang, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, said ensuring seamless coverage for a standalone network would mean many more cell sites than would be required for non-standalone.
He believes China Mobile is likely trying to leverage its deep financial strength for competitive advantage.
Standalone will demand higher capital expenditure. If competitors try to go down the same path, they are likely to feel much more financial pressure, says Yang. "If not, China Mobile will get the advantage in the market."
But he warned that China Mobile was running the risk that interoperability and interworking for the new standard may not be complete by its planned commercial launch in 2020 and "may delay the deployment."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading