China Gears Up for the 5G Race

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By Jake Saunders | 1Q 2017 | IN-4416

Given China’s population base and rising strength of its economy, China is likely to be a significant market player in the eventual finalized standards for 5G. The country was not in a position to contribute to the development of 1G analog and 2G digital standards. With 3G, China’s telecoms regulator pushed through the development of TD-SCDMA, a Time Division (TD) variant of a Code Division air interface that only secured very limited support outside of China, such as Pakistan and Nicaragua. With 4G, China adopted LTE, but did heavily promote the Time Division (TD-LTE [It should be noted that a significant number of telcos have secured TD spectrum to complement their FD spectrum holdings]) variant of LTE, whereas the majority of the world’s subscribers are on the Frequency Division (FD) scheme.

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Wishing to Be at the Center of 5G

NEWS


Given China’s population base and rising strength of its economy, China is likely to be a significant market player in the eventual finalized standards for 5G. The country was not in a position to contribute to the development of 1G analog and 2G digital standards. With 3G, China’s telecoms regulator pushed through the development of TD-SCDMA, a Time Division (TD) variant of a Code Division air interface that only secured very limited support outside of China, such as Pakistan and Nicaragua. With 4G, China adopted LTE, but did heavily promote the Time Division (TD-LTE [It should be noted that a significant number of telcos have secured TD spectrum to complement their FD spectrum holdings]) variant of LTE, whereas the majority of the world’s subscribers are on the Frequency Division (FD) scheme.

With 5G, it is likely that China will adopt the ratified standards that come out of the 3GPP and the ITU. This is not really a surprise; the government regulator, the three Chinese operators, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom, combined with a wide spectrum of Chinese hardware and software vendors, which include Huawei and ZTE, have had an aggressive agenda of R&D, planning, and work group submissions. 

Heavy Duty Testing

IMPACT


At the Chinese Communications Annual Conference 2016 on December 27, 2016, the Chinese MT-2020 (5G) Promotion Group announced it will soon carry out the second phase of its 5G technology R&D testing. The second phase includes laboratory and field tests focusing on technical solutions of wide-area coverage, high-capacity hot spots (low frequency and high frequency), low latency, assured levels of reliability, as well as massive IoT deployment that is also capable of low-power drain. The Promotion Group also stated that China will complete its 5G R&D test in 2016 to 2018 and then carry out product R&D tests in 2018 to 2020.

Of the three telcos, China Mobile laid out some of detailed 5G evaluation plans:

  • 2017, China Mobile will select about 4 to 5 cities where it will build 7 sites for system verification;
  • 2018, China Mobile will construct 20 sites for scale test and develop pre-commercial network solutions;
  • 2019, China Mobile will continue to roll out the scale of its 5G trial network;
  • 2020, China Mobile's anticipates it will have deployed 10,000 5G base stations, which will then be able to support ‘commercialization scale’ 5G services.

Where to Put 5G

COMMENTARY


It is particularly interesting to note that China Mobile intends to target the sub-6 GHz band for initial 5G services but will support higher, microwave bands after a couple of years. In contrast, the U.S. is particularly interested in the microwave bands, as it could help support fixed wireless broadband 5G adoptions in rural and semi-urban areas. Japan also seems to be prefer the sub-6 GHz bands for initial deployment.

In all markets, the prioritization and utilization of spectrum is a perennial topic. In China, it is even more challenging. A very large population (1.4 billion people), large landmass (9.6 million Km2), buildings with a significant amount of steel reinforcement, and metal grills over windows makes it a challenging RF environment to address. 2G and 3G usage, especially in the country-side, will likely linger well into 2020 to 2025, so it will not be easy for the regulator to find a sufficient large block of spectrum for 5G in the sub-6 GHz band. There is the 3.5 GHz band but so far only 200 MHz were allocated. 

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