China on Thursday announced that its long-awaited commercial 5G networks are ready, with the country’s three state-owned telecom operators to offer the service beginning Nov. 1 and ahead of an earlier plan to debut the cutting-edge technology in 2020.

Why it matters: The launch is a milestone in China’s push to become a 5G superpower amid a prolonged trade war with the United States and sanctions on Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei.

  • China is expected to be the world’s largest 5G market by user number with mobile subscribers exceeding 1.6 billion as of end-June.

Details: During a launch ceremony at the PT Expo China in Beijing on Thursday morning, Chen Zhaoxiong, the country’s vice-minister of industry and information technology, announced the official rollout of China’s 5G service.

  • The ceremony was also attended by executives from China’s three major carriers: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.
  • China will establish 130,000 5G base stations by the end of the year to provide full coverage in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, Chen said at the event.
  • The three carriers revealed their 5G data packages after the launch event with China Mobile providing the cheapest monthly plan, offering 30 gigabytes of 5G data priced at RMB 128 (around $18.2) per month.
  • The data plans will be available starting Nov. 1 and subscribers do not need to change their SIM cards or phone numbers to upgrade from current 4G services to 5G, according to carrier websites.

MIIT summit agenda hints that China may launch 5G services this week

Context: China’s launch follows South Korea’s April kickoff of the world’s first commercial 5G service, and some carriers in the US, UK, and Australia, which have also rolled out the service in limited areas this year.

  • The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China (MIIT) in June granted commercial 5G licenses to the three mobile carriers as well as state-owned China Broadcasting Network Corp.
  • Ahead of the launch, the three carriers each reported declining revenues for the first three quarters of the year following a government mandate to reduce service fees for customers.
  • China Mobile, the largest of the trio, intends to provide commercial 5G services in 50 cities this year, with a goal of expanding the services to all cities by 2020, company chairman Yang Jie said in June.

Wei Sheng

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.

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