Chinese operators to spend $180 bn on 5G 

Focus is on building 5G infrastructure which supports edge computing so that different use cases can be deployed for industry verticals

China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom are betting on the digital transformation of industries and enterprises to grow their future revenues beyond connectivity, positioning the integration of core networks, cloud and edge as a key technology enabler for companies looking to digitise their operations and services.

Operators in China will invest up to $250 billion in mobile capex between 2018-2025 of which $180 billion will be spend on 5G networks which is nearly 20% of global 5G network investment says GSMA Intelligence.

All 5G operators are moving fast with their rollouts. In 2019, the target was to build more than 130,000 5G base stations (50,000 China Mobile, 40,000 China Unicom and 40,000 China Telecom), covering more than 50 cities, with Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou getting contiguous coverage in their core urban areas. In 2020, operators are planning to expand 5G coverage to all prefecture-level cities.

Presently, Chinese operators are investing in creating 5G and IoT infrastructure for edge computing as it is a major revenue opportunity as demonstrated by early trials and deployments and is being driven by government support for new technologies.

Early edge deployments are mostly designed to serve the requirements of smart ports, smart campuses and smart factories. As 5G networks scale over the next few years, edge use cases such as autonomous driving, sporting events and gaming will be made possible. According to the ECC (Edge Computing Consortium), there are currently more than 100 edge computing projects such as smart campus, smart manufacturing, AR/VR, cloud gaming, smart ports, smart mining and smart transportation up and running in 40 cities in China across various sectors.

The Chinese operators are among the most active companies in edge computing. China Mobile’s edge computing roadmap included 300 specific edge actions in 2019, including evaluating testing nodes, opening up application programming interfaces (APIs) and working with partners to promote edge commercial applications. China Unicom claims more than 60 Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) trials and commercial projects in 20 provinces since 2018.

“Judging by the pace of edge trials and early deployments, it is clear that the Chinese ecosystem is looking to play a leading role in the development of edge computing,” explained Sihan Bo Chen, Head of Greater China, GSMA.

“Creating a favourable ecosystem environment that supports technology developments and fosters innovation will ultimately determine the pace and magnitude of edge deployments in China and beyond,” added Chen.

Yu Xiaohui, Vice Chairman, ECC said, “After three years of unremitting efforts, the edge computing industry has advanced from 1.0 consensus stage to 2.0 implementation. ECC will continue to promote the scale application of edge computing in the major fields including mobile network, industrial internet and enterprise IoT.”

However, the report notes that several critical questions remain, such as the most viable location of the network edge, the levels of investment required and the most appropriate business models.

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