BMW China on Wednesday announced it has teamed up with China Unicom to test autonomous cars using 5G networks, the first partnership between a global automaker and the state-owned mobile carrier.

Why it matters: The collaboration highlights China’s accelerated pace in developing connected vehicles using 5G networks.

  • The central government strongly supports the deployment of C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) technology as the main technology for smart mobility initiatives.
  • China’s National Development and Reform Commission expects that wireless communication solutions for public transport systems will cover 90% of major highways and major cities in the country by 2020.

“5G Mobile Communication technologies will have an overwhelming impact on the auto industry which is in the middle of a transformation towards digitalization. The extensive cooperation with China Unicom is a crucial step in BMW’s active planning and investment for the 5G era.”

— Jochen Goller, BMW Group Region China president and CEO

Details: The German auto giant has been working with China Unicom to test and develop autonomous vehicles in experimental 5G networks.

  • BMW also unveiled plans to introduce 5G-enabled new models in the country beginning July 2021, as part of the deal with China Unicom.
  • The two parties have an ongoing collaboration dating back in 2012 on an onboard information service platform, running BMW’s call center in China and its online store in the eras of 3G and 4G.
  • China Unicom says it has more than 70% share of the Chinese vehicle networking segment.

Context: China is accelerating the latest wireless communication technologies in smart connected vehicles on a mass scale, and automakers are responding.

  • Ministry of Industry and Information Technology set aside spectrum on its 5905-5925MHz band for LTE-V2X networks in November last year, which was reportedly followed by an incentive issued last month which allows industry players to use bandwidth free of charge for the first three years.
  • Ford China in March this year said that it will deploy C-V2X in all of its new vehicle models in China beginning in 2021. Chinese automakers including SAIC and Geely have partnered with state mobile carriers for driverless tests under 5G beginning late last year.
  • China’s major three telecom carriers—China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom—were just granted 5G commercial licenses a month ago. All three companies have planned to launch 5G commercial networks by the end of 2020, according to a report by mobile operator association GSMA.

Updated to include comments from the company.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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