China dials up 5G development efforts despite Huawei setbacks

30 Jan 2019

Huawei engineers working on a mobile network mast. Image: Huawei

The Chinese government is keen to plough on with 5G efforts, even in the face of mistrust and economic issues.

China’s 5G plans continue to accelerate as the government aims to have the country use the cutting-edge technology, despite an escalating row with the US over one of its leading firms in the area, Huawei.

Keen on commercialisation

At a press conference on Tuesday (29 January), spokesperson for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Wen Ku, said that the first commercial 5G smartphones are likely to arrive to the Chinese market this year.

The country has been conducting extensive trial operations of 5G systems in a range of cities and hopes to have fully commercialised the technology by 2020. According to the government, a test for virtual reality (VR) live transmission via 5G was successfully carried out on 28 January. China says it has already launched 5G in Guangzhou Airport, among other projects.

Wen added: “Chinese enterprises will deepen their partnerships with foreign companies so that global consumers can benefit from faster telecommunications and other 5G-related services as soon as possible.”

A turbulent period

Wang Yanhui, secretary general of industry association Mobile China Alliance, mentioned the recent difficulties encountered by Chinese comms player Huawei to The Straits Times: “China’s open attitude towards foreign companies in 5G stands in sharp contrast to the US, which banned some Chinese enterprises from entering its telecom market on ‘national security concerns.’”

This Monday (28 January), the US announced criminal charges against Huawei. On another trade-based issue, minister of industry and information technology, Miao Wei, implored the US government to stop the “wrong practice” of restricting the export of US technology and products to Chinese chipmaker Fujian Jinhua. The move stemmed from a trade row between Jinhua, US chipmaker Micron Technology and Taiwanese chip design firm UMC.

Miao said: “The US commerce department is misusing national security concerns and abusing export control measures. It is groundless for a country to use such excuses to put an export ban on a company that is still under construction, and has not yet started mass production.”

China still aiming for international 5G collaboration

Miao noted that despite the tensions with the US and other countries such as Australia, China is considering a further expansion of market access to telecoms and other industries “with more business scope open to foreign companies”.

In a statement from the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission obtained by TechCrunch, the regulator urged local governments to support the promotion of services using 5G, such as VR and ultra-HD televisions. While no specifics were given, the regulator mentioned the opportunity for government subsidies on such products.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects