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Dawn of Digital Revolution
The benefits of 5G technology are on the horizon
By Li Xiaoyang | NO. 51 DECEMBER 20, 2018
An exhibitor presents a high-speed digital-to-analog converter for 5G communication in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, on April 21 (XINHUA)

Famed for pandas and hotpot, the city of Chengdu in southwest China's Sichuan Province now has a new distinction. Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li, a shopping center at the heart of the city, is in the spotlight as the first demonstration block for a domestic fifth-generation (5G) network as China steps up efforts to switch to 5G. Playing a leading role in the bid, Chengdu had the first 5G bus in the country run on its streets on December 5. One of the perks of the 5G bus is that passengers can download high-resolution films in seconds as the new telecommunication technology makes many impossibles possible.

A new round of the digital revolution is taking place across the globe. 5G communication technology, with faster Internet speed and quicker transfer of data, can better meet people's communication and entertainment needs and transform various industries.

According to a report released by Global Mobile Suppliers Association, 192 operators in 81 countries had conducted field trials of 5G technologies, deployed 5G networks and invested in related sectors by November. As the world quickens its pace to embrace the 5G revolution, China is also moving fast to deploy the technologies for smarter growth.

Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) Intelligence, a database for global mobile operators, projects that China will become the largest 5G market in 2025, accounting for one third of worldwide users. According to a plan issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the National Development and Reform Commission in August, the commercial use of 5G technologies will take off in 2020.

"5G technologies herald not only great improvements in people's lives and industrial production but also huge commercial opportunities. Great breakthroughs have been made in terms of setting standards and launching trials, but issues such as safety and the information infrastructure still remain to be resolved before across-the-board commercialization," Chen Baoming, Director of the Research Institute of Comprehensive Development of the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development, told Beijing Review.

Visitors experience 5G remote driving at an exhibition in Wuhan, Hubei Province, on November 14 (CHEN JIAN)

Deadline 2020

The Chinese began using the first 2G phones around 1995, which allowed Internet surfing and texting. Few people could have thought at the time that the leap to 3G or even 4G would follow so closely. Today, China has the largest 4G mobile communication network, benefiting more than 1 billion domestic users with various high-speed mobile applications.

As the 5G era approaches, China has become an important participant in research and development. Many leading enterprises have made innovations in developing and applying 5G technology.

"Looking at the development of the Chinese telecom industry, focus on research and innovation is the most important for domestic enterprises," Ge Qi, General Manager of Strategic Cooperation of GSMA in Greater China, told the media.

China's three largest telecom giants—China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom—are building research centers, formulating relevant rules and exploring combining the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing with 5G technology. They are also promoting industrial cooperation. Domestic manufacturers too have played a key role by providing strong technological support. UNISOC, a chipset provider for phones, plans to produce and commercialize 5G chips in 2019.

In the mobile phone industry that is characterized by rapid upgrading, the emergence of 5G technology has triggered trials. Chinese smartphone makers such as Xiaomi and Oppo are working to connect 5G signals and data links. A report by Oppo says it has accomplished the connection on a new smartphone model. Another smartphone and accessories maker Vivo has also begun tests.

The commercialization of 5G is almost within reach, while mass application of the technologies still needs two or three more years, Ge said. According to Counterpoint Research, a global industrial analysis firm, the growth of 5G smartphone shipments may be slow when they are initially commercialized in 2019. But sales will see a 255-percent increase by 2021 with almost 110 million units being sold.

"Long-term efforts are still needed to make 5G technology better serve industrial and social development," Ge said. "But it is possible for domestic consumers to enjoy the conveniences brought by the technologies in the second half of 2019 or 2020."

Industrial Internet

Apart from facilitating communication and improving users' experience with ultra-fast networks, 5G technology will release new opportunities by combining the IoT and virtual reality for making smart and remote services, starting a new round of digital transformation in various industries. According to Chen, 5G is no mere upgrade of 4G. It will further promote connectivity between people and things for a more digitalized society.

A report released by China Mobile says 5G technologies will promote the development of big data and artificial intelligence and boost industries such as smart medical treatment, the Internet of Vehicles and Industrial IoT(IIoT). The telecom giant is testing 5G driverless cars. GSMA Intelligence estimates that the connections of IIoT will reach 13.8 billion by 2025, with China contributing 65 percent.

From meeting consumers' demands, 5G networks will help develop the Industrial Internet, promoting industrial upgrading, Tian Suning, Chairman of China Broadband Capital, a private equity firm, said. "The 5G revolution will underpin the development of the Industrial Internet," he said.

China is seeking global cooperation to develop 5G. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said China will cooperate with other countries on 5G-based development and create inclusive 5G industrial forms to realize the potential of the technology.

To boost 5G deployment in China, relevant sectors need to grant more space for full-fledged application of new technologies, Ge said.

According to Chen, many domestic industries can upgrade with 5G technology. Those failing to utilize them face the risk of being squeezed out of the market.

"Many technological issues have still not been addressed and some industries may not be ready to embrace the trend. To prepare for the possible effects of 5G commercialization, comprehensive evaluation and precautionary measures should be put in place beforehand," Chen said.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to lixiaoyang@bjreview.com

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