Since commercial 5G services were launched in China in 2019, the technology has become extensively used, going far beyond mobile phones into sectors as diverse as e-commerce and healthcare. Its versatility was particularly apparent last year when it was deployed in a specialty hospital in Wuhan in central China for epidemic prevention and control, and also used to measure the height of Mt. Qomolangma, the highest peak in the world. Wang Zhiqin, vice president of China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, talked about its development to Guangming Daily. This is an edited excerpt of the interview:
Guangming Daily: What is the current state of China's 5G development?
Wang Zhiqin: Commercial deployment of 5G made solid progress in 2020, with more than 718,000 base stations built nationwide, accounting for 70 percent of the global total. Today, the domestic network covers all cities at and above prefecture level, with more than 200 million terminal connections. Telecom enterprises, manufacturers and other related companies are all promoting its integrative development.
What are the challenges that it faces?
Despite a good start, there are still many challenges regarding future development. For core components including chips, mobile operating system and other basic software and hardware, Chinese companies still depend on imports, which has restricted the development of the technology.
Also, 5G-related construction, operation and maintenance costs are higher than 4G. The technology needs to be upgraded and optimized for various application scenarios. It's also necessary to boost cross-industry application.
What is 5G's role in promoting high-quality development and stimulating new growth drivers?
The technology can drive economic growth directly. And the combination of 5G and traditional industries will generate a spillover effect, improving the efficiency of production and transforming economic growth models. The technology's contribution to economic development can be explained from the following three perspectives.
Its commercialization will boost investment. Wider commercial application of 5G will drive up the demand for new infrastructure investment. With the explosive growth in data traffic, the demand for data storage, processing, computing and analysis is on the rise. This will stimulate investment in new infrastructure including data centers and cloud computing.
Additionally, it will upgrade users' consumption. The data consumption by 5G users is higher than that of other network users. The large-scale shipment of 5G terminals indicates its role in stimulating consumption. In 2020, the shipment of 5G mobile phones in China exceeded 160 million, accounting for half of all mobile phone shipments in the country. Also smart wearable equipment and intelligent Internet of Things products are getting more attention, which will remarkably spur terminal product consumption.
Besides, 5G plays a role in altering the mode of production, promoting high-quality development. Its application in traditional industries will enhance productivity greatly as it can bolster effective gathering of production and management statistics and realize low-cost remote control.
How can network construction be promoted?
It's crucial to be moderately forward-looking in the construction of 5G network. "Moderately" means taking into consideration the specific characteristics of 5G technology and products. China is among the first countries to use 5G commercially, so there is no previous experience to learn from. Therefore, it will take time to explore this sector.
It is essential to set a proper pace for the deployment of 5G so that resources will not be wasted to excessively hasten deployment. Network construction is the foundation of 5G deployment just as road building is important to transportation. So network should be developed first just as road should be paved first.
Popular applications, such as social media platform Weibo in the age of 3G, and short videos in the 4G era, emerged two to three years later after the commercialization of the network. By that time the network had been complete, ready for the launch of innovative applications.
Similarly, in the age of 5G, it's necessary to speed up network building in an appropriate way. With this principle, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology plans to build 600,000 5G base stations this year.
What progress will be made in 5G technology research and development (R&D) this year?
This year commercial 5G networks will become large-scale and further integrated with related industries. To better meet the industrial demand for applications, 5G wireless-enhanced design and international standards will continue to evolve. China will enhance its 5G design and shore up weak links in the industrial chain.
How will application of 5G be expanded?
Currently, we are at the preliminary stage in developing 5G industrial applications, as supportive technologies, ecosystem and business models are being explored and innovated. We will focus on major fields and demonstration models will be set up. Efforts will be made to accelerate 5G application in major fields such as the industrial Internet, medical care, energy and port and expand its role in other sectors such as education and logistics.
There are still weaknesses in technologies and industries that support the integrated application of 5G, and it is important to address their common problems. The supply of chip and module products should be increased and domestic manufacturers should be encouraged to develop 5G chips.
The telecom industry should coordinate with other industries to establish a 5G application standard system and industrial barriers should be broken down.
The commercialization of key supportive technologies should be promoted, so should be its integration with other new generation information technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
What new breakthroughs can we expect for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period?
The R&D of new base station products will be strengthened, and an advanced, sound and safe industrial and supply chain will be built.
It is predicted that by the end of the 14th Five-Year Plan period, the 5G network in China will cover both urban and rural areas, indoor and outdoor areas, and individuals and industries to become the world's largest standalone 5G network.
Innovative applications will be encouraged, including high-definition videos, virtual reality, augmented reality and cloud games. At the same time, they will also be used in key industries such as coal mines, ports, manufacturing and medical care to create replicable industrial solutions and application standards. In this way, 5G will empower thousands of industries.
China will continue to deepen international cooperation and establish a unified global standard for 5G in collaboration with the International Organization for Standardization. It will also share new applications, new models and new formats.