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Pics: 5G, VR Storm MWC Shanghai

SHANGHAI -- Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2016 -- Barcelona's MWC event is still the mother of all mobile trade shows but its Asia-Pacific sibling makes for an interesting alternative, providing a flavor of what's at the top of the list in China, the world's largest single market.

As a reminder of just how big a market we're talking about, here are some statistics (as of the end of May 2016): Between them, the country's three main operators have 1.3 billion mobile connections, of which 562 million are 4G connections. (See China Mobile Touts 409M 4G Subs.)

In addition, China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) and China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) have activated an aggregate 254 million fixed broadband lines.

Table 1: China's Key Subscriber Numbers May 2016

Connections as of May 2016 Mobile inc. 4G 4G only Fixed broadband
China Mobile 835 million 409 million 63 million
China Telecom 206 million 85 million 117 million
China Unicom 260 million 68 million 74 million
Total 1,301 million 562 million 254 million
Source: Operator-published monthly statistics

These are astonishing numbers: China has more 4G connections than there are people in the whole of North America (US, Canada and Mexico combined, which is about 490 million currently according to United Nations estimates).

So, all in all, it's worth keeping an eye on what's trending in China, even if the market does tend to go down some fairly idiosyncratic technology trails when a major shift in the market rears its head (take TD-SCDMA for 4G as an example).

As we noted previously, there was a big focus on what's coming next on the show floor and during the conference sessions at MWCS, with 5G, virtual reality and telco transformation strategies standing out as key themes:

You'll see those themes in the following pictures, which reflect the trends but don't show how busy the event was as I took these pictures shortly after the show opened on its first day: In total, the event attracted about 53,000 attendees, according to the GSM Association (GSMA) , which organizes the event.

Click on the image below to start the slideshow.

'Mobile Is Me'
The welcome display for MWC Shanghai proclaimed 'Mobile Is Me' and it's true, my battery was somewhat depleted at that point and I was having a few issues with roaming...
The welcome display for MWC Shanghai proclaimed 'Mobile Is Me' and it's true, my battery was somewhat depleted at that point and I was having a few issues with roaming...

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

KBode 7/5/2016 | 2:27:59 PM
Re: VR- Yes, Mobile value add - no idea Yes I'm not sure how big a role carriers play here either, outside of the fact that VR content needs to be downloaded, and that eats data. They themselves likely are just middle men in the equation, and I imagine many will download the content via Wi-Fi. 
komatineni 7/4/2016 | 9:09:16 PM
VR- Yes, Mobile value add - no idea I am not sure how Mobile players can depend on VR to grow up in the chain. We have seen the dump pipe to smart pipe, or many other such tags in the past but IMHO and as an individual I would say mobile networks would be carrying the traffic and nothing much in VR. So could be another App of future which is going to load the network and drive traffic growth.
danielcawrey 7/4/2016 | 1:50:00 PM
Re: Virtual reality is going to divide the industry China has a ton of mobile customers. And I would argue that the country's mobile users are pretty sophisticated. 

This will make China one of the leaders of mobile technology in the coming years. The country will set the standard for operating a huge mobile network, that's for sure. 
[email protected] 7/4/2016 | 12:07:50 PM
Virtual reality is going to divide the industry The potential (or lack of it) of virtual reality is going to divide the comms industry, I feel. No one is denying it is a compelling application that already exists and works but will it become a mass market service/application that is affordable and deliverable over commercial comms networks?

The answer might be 'Yes, ultimately' but there's no doubt that some companies, including the Chinese operators, believe it will be sooner rather than later. But then, there have been substantial investments in FTTH in China.... the question about whether VR will be a commercial service over mobile networks will be much more contentious.
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