October 11, 2023
Two contrasting government documents show us the Chinese government's latest thinking on building out digital infrastructure.
The first is the issue of an 'action plan' to boost national compute capacity by more than a third over the next three years.
It is the latest in a series of schemes to break through what officials have termed a bottleneck in China's digital economy. In this case the plan, issued by the MIIT and five other agencies, reaffirm it as one of their biggest tech priorities.
They have set a national target of 300 EFLOPS in computing power by 2025, up from 220 EFLOPS today. The plan calls for a 50% increase in storage capacity, with advanced storage to account for more than 30%, and intelligent computing power to represent 35% of total capacity.
As is common with these plans, a big part is merely name-checking key technologies: ultra-low-loss optical fiber, 400G/800G high-speed optical transmission networks, all-optical cross-connection, SRv6, network slicing, flexible Ethernet and IPv6 all get a mention.
A small part is devoted to explaining how the project will be executed and funded. It vaguely calls for the "guiding role of national government investment funds" and national industry and finance cooperation platforms.
Although not mentioned, China's telcos are at the center of the drive to grow computing capability.
Rolling their eyes
The operators reported large growth in compute capacity in their latest filings. China Mobile said it had increased the number of data center servers by 13% to 804,000, boosting total computing capacity by 1.4 EFLOPS to 9.4 EFLOPS. China Telecom said it had hiked compute capacity to 4.7 EFLOPS, up from 3.8 EFLOPS at the start of the year.
The other notable MIIT move in the past week has been the start of a consultation on telecoms governance that will canvass "opening up to private capital." Most industry veterans no doubt rolled their eyes. This is a topic the MIIT returns to every few years with little to show for it.
The language of the consultation paper is revealing enough. It says the intention is to "expand the opening up of telecommunications services to the outside world" and to "promote the opening of telecommunications business to private capital."
So the aim is not to actually liberalize services, but to make incremental advances.
No doubt this exercise is driven by the government's need to find a way to juice private investment to revive the flagging economy. But there's a very tiny envelope of 'liberalization' available, given that network infrastructure and infrastructure-based services are all off the agenda.
That's why the specifics suggested are so limp: "exploring pilot projects" in free trade ports, "expanding value-added services on a pilot basis," and increasing support for MVNOs.
Still, one local analyst, while cautioning people not to "over-interpret" the news, suggests that it may mean that the 5G private network market could open up to non-telco players.
Yet there is still no process for issuing spectrum to private firms. As the analyst says, "don’t imagine the expansion speed will be too fast."
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