A high-profile wireless industry summit to commence Thursday may be the launch event for China’s long-awaited commercial 5G service, nearly five months after the country issued licenses for the next-generation wireless network.

Why it matters: The move marks a major step forward for China in its battle with the United States for 5G supremacy, though its pace has been hampered by the blacklisting of Chinese telecommunications equipment makers Huawei and ZTE.

  • China is working vigorously to ensure its major state-owned carriers—China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom—have access to cheap 5G bandwidth equipment from domestic manufacturers.
  • A US export ban imposed on Huawei in May, however, has limited its ability to support the country’s ambitions for rapid 5G deployment. The ban bars any American companies from selling components and technology to the Chinese firm without government approval.

Details: The agenda for the PT Expo China event, which runs from Thursday to Sunday, features a “launch ceremony” in the morning of its opening day, to be attended by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China (MIIT) and the country’s three major carriers, according to its website (in Chinese).

  • The agenda does not indicate whether the ceremony is related to the launch of China’s commercial 5G services.
  • The PT Expo China, first held in 1990, is an annual event hosted by MIIT to showcase China’s latest achievements in the information and communications technology field, according to its website.
  • A Chinese media report from Friday cited Li Wei, vice general manager at China Mobile’s Beijing branch, as saying that the carrier will begin to offer 5G service in the capital city on Nov. 1.

Context: MIIT in June granted commercial 5G licenses to the three major mobile carriers as well as state-owned China Broadcasting Network Corp.

  • China Unicom and China Telecom said last month they will jointly build a 5G network to reduce the cost burden amid Beijing’s call to accelerate the rollout.
  • The investment needed to build China’s 5G networks was estimated at RMB 1.23 trillion ($170 billion), according to securities firm China Securities International (in Chinese).
  • Ahead of the launch, China Mobile and China Unicom both reported declining profits for the first three quarters of the year partially due to increased spending on 5G network build-out.
  • South Korean carriers were the first to offer the cutting-edge technology to the country’s consumers in April, with SK Telecom launching its 5G network and smartphone maker Samsung offering a 5G-enabled smartphone.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.

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