China looks to be on course to offer a commercial 5G network at roughly the same time as developed nations. China Telecom has connected its base towers in Lanzhou, making the city the sixth in just over a month to be host to a 5G pilot area.

At the end of November, the National Development and Reform Commission said the country’s 5G network would start to take shape with pilots in at least five cities, as part of a broader plan for 2018. Then on Dec 1 Chengdu became the fifth host to announce a pilot.

Each test area has 6 to 8 base stations. Shenzhen was the first to get a pilot 5G network, on October 27. Xinhua has now reported that the pilot covers an area that is home to a large number of high-tech companies in the Shenzhen Software Industry Base, the Shuangchuangyuan innovation park, the Shenzhen University Campus and Hong Kong Polytechnic University Incubation Base in Shenzhen.

On November 8 China Telecom announced that Xiong’an, the site for a totally new city outside Beijing, had begun its pilot. Field tests show the network to be 20 times faster than 4G. On November 10th Suzhou was announced with Shanghai the fourth pilot announced the next day.

China Telecom’s plan is to conduct lab and field testing in 2017-18 ready for partial commercial rollout in 2019 and full-scale rollout in 2020.

Previous advances in mobile network technology saw China had lagged, for the move to 5G, China seems to be in line with other countries. Policy changes have been made accordingly to help the technology benefit the “Made in China 2025” campaign.

Chen Zhaoxiong, the vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said at a conference in June that China has conducted a full range of 5G technology research and development, including large-scale antennas and ultra-dense networking. This puts China in line with other countries for a 2019-20 launch. China has previously announced collaborations with other regions to boost the technology’s rollout.

Another requirement for the success of the 5G network is enough demand. One of the panels at last week’s Wuzhen’s World Internet Conference agreed that China’s mix of mobile internet dependency and big data make it highly likely to succeed in terms of demand.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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