The global 5G rollout is expected in 2020 and China is poised to lead the way. The country is making aggressive investments in infrastructure to become the largest 5G market in the next decade. According to market research firm Netscribes, the China 5G market is anticipated to exhibit a triple-digit growth rate and achieve 400 Mn connections by 2025. China already holds a leading market position in 4G connectivity, and with the impending 5G rollout, the country is positioning itself strategically to seize a significant market share.

How is China poised to lead the global 5G market?

China is set to deploy 5G on a commercial scale by 2019 and both the government and telecom operators are working together to meet the deadline. China is expected to invest USD 411 Bn from 2020 to 2030 on 5G mobile networks, which is one of the most expensive telecommunication build-ups in the country’s history. Domestic carriers like China Mobile, Huawei, and ZTE are collaborating with global players to put 5G equipment through trial runs. More than 25 agreements have been signed, with the scopes varying from testing 5G radio technology, architecture evolution towards 5G, and Internet of Things (IoT), to global knowledge and experience sharing.

The best of wireless carriers committing to the technology, government support for research and the plans to strategically rollout by 2020 are working in favour of large-scale 5G adoption in China. Also, 5G has been given great importance in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), which bodes well for the country’s target of becoming the largest 5G market by 2025. 5G is deemed to be critical for the growth of China’s vibrant digital economy and its aspirations in artificial intelligence (AI). China’s AI plans include a focus on 5G, and improved low-latency, high-throughput transmission capabilities of these technologies.

How are China’s competitors faring?

The United States (U.S.) is China’s closest competitor. The intense rivalry between the leading carriers in the country is accelerating investments in 5G. Leading mobile carriers, AT&T and Verizon, have both announced plans to begin 5G rollout in select cities this year.

Another competitor, South Korea, is all set to embrace 5G, with telecom company KT planning to launch a 5G wireless service for business clients early next year. In February 2018, South Korea had a trial run for its 5G technology at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and showcased the nation’s intent to pursue technological advancements.

The European Union is miles behind China, the U.S., and South Korea. Stringent regulations, insufficient investments for mobile networks, and uncertainty over how local radio bandwidth will be used remain barriers. Like South Korea, Europe too will witness 5G trial runs, with Nordic carrier Telia expected to build 5G networks in parts of Stockholm and Tallinn later this year. However, no major 5G rollout is expected in Europe before 2025.

What does the 5G future hold for China?

In the past, China lagged behind other countries in adopting 3G and 4G networks. With 5G however, the country has already raced ahead of the competition, and is setting standards with respect to research and development as well. With the infrastructure in place, it is now up to Chinese companies to leverage the nation’s leading position in the 5G race to customize the global standards. Though it is too early to say whether the 5G world will be dominated by China, there is no denying that the balance of power tilts in its favor.