China’s big three state-linked telecom operators – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom – introduced their 5G packages in November 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in lockdown and social distancing measures.

Based on China Mobile’s tariff schedule, the packages start from RMB128 (USD18.09) per month for 30GB data and 500 minutes with the individual plans and can go up to RMB869 (USD122.79) per month for 300GB data and 3000 minutes with the family plans. When these packages were launched, the operators had been handing out discounts to encourage their adoption. China Mobile was reported to have offered discounts as steep as 30% on their plans.

5G is a bright spark in China’s gloom

Four months on, the adoption of 5G can be said to be a bright spark in the midst of the pandemic dampening down economic activity and keeping stores shut. China Mobile and China Telecom accumulated 2.55m and 4.61m users respectively. By February, those figures had ballooned to 15.4m and 10.7m. China Mobile and China Telecom target to add a further 70m and 60-80m to their respective subscriber bases by the end of 2020.

GlobalData makes a more conservative estimate of 164m 5G subscriptions by the end of 2020, which represents an 11% share of mobile subscriptions, due to the projected economic fallout from the pandemic and disrupted production of 5G smartphones and other electronics crucial to deploy 5G networks.

Huge CAPEX boost for 5G

The latest filings by China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom have disclosed a boost in capital expenditure into 5G allocated in 2020 that amounts to RMB180bn (USD25.48bn), up from RMB41bn (USD5.82bn) the year before.

Amongst some of the objectives of the telecom operators are to expand coverage in prefecture level and above cities and to upgrade the current non-standalone dominated network, which uses existing 4G infrastructure, to a standalone network, that requires dedicated equipment.

Covid-19 will drive innovation

Industrial 5G adoption in China could receive an unexpected boost from the Covid-19 pandemic as workers are kept away from work, driving innovations and uptake of smart automation technology underpinned by IoT.

Among the many use cases that demonstrate this include the Tianjin 5G Smart Port, which is the product of a collaboration between China Unicom and other ecosystem providers. A quasi-private 5G network environment, consisting 5G base stations and an edge computing platform, was deployed to meet the port’s smart computing needs. By November 2019, the port had piloted 5G use cases autonomous driving, quay crane control, customs traffic management, and mobile supervision, etc..

5g already benefiting the country

Already, 5G has been employed to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic in China. Most notably, Huawei was involved in setting up the 5G network for the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, best known for having been built in three days to house the explosion in the number of Covid-19 patients. 5G connectivity underpinned the strong virtual collaboration between doctors across China at the hospital, minimising the number of doctors on site and facilitating the sharing of information.