China prepares to issue temporary 5G licenses to operators

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Miao Wei, head of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said on Thursday the government body would this year grant a batch of temporary 5G licenses to mobile operators in numerous Chinese cities, highlighting the country’s intensified efforts to commercialize 5G technology.

In an interview with national broadcaster CCTV (in Chinese), Miao noted that China plans to push the large-scale construction of 5G networks while accelerating the launch of 5G services in terminal devices, such as smartphones.

The temporary licenses allow for larger-scale deployment than those that have been granted for pilot testing. Operations can be carried out across cities, as opposed to being confined to pilot sites. However, they do not allow for operations at the national level.

The country’s largest mobile carrier China Mobile is expected to sell 5G-enabled devices from July while providing users with subsidies of between RMB 100 million (around $15 million) and RMB 200 million.

“We expect that mature 5G products, including smartphones and tablets, will be accessible to consumers in the second half of this year,” Miao said.

Apart from the large-scale rollout of consumer electronics, the industry regulator stressed China’s plans to enhance its public transport system by leveraging 5G networking technology.

“The next-generation of wireless networks will be deployed on traffic lights and smart vehicles, creating a massive network of interconnected travelers, automobiles, and highways,” Miao said. In October 2018, the minister said he expected China’s intelligent connected vehicles sector to exceed RMB 100 billion in market value by 2020.

China’s central government has encouraged companies and city governments to deploy 5G technology around the country, especially as part of urban infrastructure.

On Jan.5, the government from the southwestern city of Chengdu said it had opened the country’s first 5G-enabled subway station. In August last year, national mobile carrier China Unicom announced a plan to build 300 5G base stations in Beijing.

So far, national carriers China Mobile and China Unicom have launched 5G pilots in 17 cities across the country, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Wuhan.

While seeing success in 5G deployment at home, Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers have faced regulatory pushback abroad. Last month, US President Donald Trump was reportedly considering an executive order that would limit US carriers and companies from purchasing network equipment from foreign companies. So far, Huawei’s 5G network gear has been banned in several countries including Australia and New Zealand.