China has issued commercial 5G licenses to its three biggest telcos and state-owned China Broadcasting Network, as it looks to accelerate the deployment of the high-speed mobile technology ahead of its previous target. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) also adds that foreign companies are welcomed to partake in the development of the country's 5G industry.
Its minister Miao Wei said foreign participants could "share the benefits" generated as a result of 5G adoption in the Chinese market.
The ministry on Thursday awarded licenses to China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom in a move it said marked an accelerated push to deploy the mobile technology ahead of its original plan to commercialise 5G in 2020.
China Mobile had said its 5G services would be available in more than 40 cities across China by end-September this year.
"5G licensing will be a significant boost to the domestic economy, as it will drive the transformation and upgrading of the real economy, promote the application of 5G to various fields including manufacturing and agriculture, and boost digital economic growth," said Wang Zhiqin, who heads the IMT2020 (5G) Promotion Group, established by the MIIT to drive 5G development in China.
"Issuing licenses for China Broadcasting Network, a new fourth 5G carrier, will help build a next-generation communication network," Wang said in a report by state-owned newspaper China Daily. "Granting four 5G licenses is conducive to fostering rational competition and investment in the market."
He said the MIIT would take steps to help fuel 5G adoption, improve resource allocation, encourage companies to participate in 5G deployment, and integrate 5G with vertical markets.
According to market figures from industry group GSMA, China is expected to become one of the world's largest 5G markets by 2025 when it will be home to 460 million 5G connections, or 28 percent of the country's total mobile connections. The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology also projected that 5G would generate US$1.54 trillion in economic output and more than three million jobs between 2020 and 2025.
Miao said the high-speed mobile technology would spur new market opportunities and fuel the growth of China's digital economy, with sectors such as "industrial internet" and "internet of vehicles" expected to see high 5G adoption.
Networking equipment manufacturer Huawei, which is battling a 5G trade ban in US, said it was ready to drive commercial adoption of 5G in the country. The Chinese vendor had invested US$2 billion in its 5G research and development efforts since 2009.
The MIIT's announcement had come shortly after Huawei inked an agreement with Russian mobile operator MTS to deploy 5G technology in Russian, with test runs scheduled to commence this year as well as in 2020. The agreement was inked on the sidelines Chinese president Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow, where he met Russian president Vladimir Putin.
China will remain Asia's largest in terms of tech spending, growing 4 percent this year and 6 percent in 2020, and lead global markets in the 5G race where its investments in telecommunications account for 57 percent of the country's overall spend.
Huawei is also scheduled to ship its foldable 5G smartphone, the Mate X, this month.
Touting its low latency and high speeds, Ericsson says 5G can introduce a multitude of new applications for businesses and give telcos the cost efficiencies they seek, but the persistent controversy over cybersecurity--specifically involving Huawei--is leading to uncertainty and a general slowdown in the market.
The UK telco has secured nationwide licences in China that will enable it to directly contract and bill Chinese customers, marking the first time a foreign telecommunications company has been allowed to do so across the country.
The ban on US sales to Huawei could be resolved if China does a trade deal with the US.