According to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China has embarked on a number of investments to counter the Covid-19 downturn.

Facing the prospect of a painful first quarter decline in economic activity, China is prepared to invest in a host of infrastructure projects to help jump-start the economy and put people back to work. Part of that strategy is to maintain – or possibly expand – its already significant commitment to building 5G networks.

The government has built nearly 3 million new homes for poverty-stricken residents; built schools and hospitals to support 132 large-scale resettlement projects; stepped up policy initiatives in support of new electric vehicle production and sale; and promoted vehicle electrification in public transportation, environmental sanitation, postal services, and logistics.

MIIT plans huge boost for telcoms

But perhaps no sector has gotten as big a boost as telecommunications, where the Chinese government is clearly hitting the accelerator on already aggressive buildout plans. The country had approximately 130,000 5G base stations at the end of 2019, but expects to ramp up to over 600,000 by the end of 2020. Chinese operators will also invest aggressively in ‘standalone’ 5G core technology, which is a crucial building block in enabling transformative 5G use cases.

To that end, MIIT plans to work to develop a host of 5G-based use cases that coincide with the need to maintain social distancing practices over the coming months. These include virtual reality shopping applications as well as livestreaming of concerts and sporting events over 5G networks. In the enterprise segment, MIIT plans to cultivate a number of new 5G Industrial Internet, automotive, and healthcare use cases; notably, a host of Chinese operators and telecoms vendors have utilized 5G technology to aid in remote diagnosis of Covid-19 patients in the early stages of the disease’s outbreak.

China is already the leading 5G country

MIIT estimates that there were 26 million 5G mobile handsets in place as of the end of March 2019. This means that despite having launched 5G well behind other early launchers like Korea and the U.S., China has already become the leading 5G country by a wide margin. South Korean operators, which were the first to launch 5G services on a wide-scale basis, currently claim less than 6 million subscribers, while GlobalData does not forecast the U.S. 5G subscriber count to reach China’s current level until mid-2021. With many European operators now likely to slow some 5G deployment plans, it appears COVID-19 is likely to magnify China’s 5G leadership.

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