China built more 5G base stations in 3 months than the US did in 2 years

China surpassed its target for 5G base stations six months early, having built 3 million of them by the end of June, the latest government data showed.

The numbers also suggest that China has left the United States far behind in the 5G connectivity race, with more than 600,000 new stations added in the last three months alone.

By comparison, the US has built about 100,000 5G base stations between 2019 and 2021, according to the latest available industry estimates.

In March, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced plans to build 2.9 million 5G base stations by the end of the year.

“As of the end of June, the number of 5G base stations in China has reached 2.937 million, covering all urban areas of prefecture-level and county-level cities, and the coverage continues to expand in both breadth and depth,” MIIT chief engineer and spokesman Zhao Zhiguo said in Beijing on Wednesday.

The rapid spread of advanced communications infrastructure has accelerated the technological upgrading of Chinese industries and boosted their global competitiveness, Zhao and another senior MIIT official said.

The number of 5G base stations determines the coverage and capacity of the network. This is important for enabling new applications and services that require high-speed, low-latency connectivity, such as autonomous vehicles, remote operations and smart factories.

Zhao said 3 million 5G stations are connected to 676 million mobile phones and more than 2.12 billion users of mobile Internet of Things (IoT) terminals, or devices connected to the internet through a 5G network – including smart home appliances, wearables and industrial sensors.

The rapid expansion of the network was in part driven by Beijing’s push to boost economic growth, Zhao said. “We are strengthening the construction of new information infrastructures and vigorously promoting the deep integration of the digital economy and the real economy,” he said.

Reduced costs and improvements in technology have also helped to drive rapid network growth.

The average price of a 5G module for industrial application in China has dropped below 400 yuan (US$55.41), while the energy consumption of each base station has fallen by more than 20% compared to the early deployment period, according to the ministry. China first started rolling out 5G stations in 2019.

However, there are concerns that the country’s massive investment in telecom infrastructure could be hit by the economic slowdown in recent months.

Some critics also said it could be a waste of money because 4G, which could theoretically reach a 5G-like speed of 1 Gigabit per second, could meet the needs of most consumers.

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Tao Qing, director of MIIT’s operation monitoring and coordination bureau, said 5G is more about smart manufacturing than streaming short videos.

A large number of 5G-powered digital workshops and smart factories have been built across the country, where productivity has increased by more than a third, Tao said.

“Factories’ product development cycle was shortened by an average of 20.7% [and] production efficiency increased by an average of 34.8%,” he said.

The average defect rate of products has been reduced by more than 27%, and carbon emissions have been reduced by more than a fifth on average, he added.

Zhao points to increased profits for smart businesses. “In the first half of the year, the revenue of emerging businesses such as internet data centers, big data, cloud computing and IoT increased by 19.2% year-on-year, driving telecommunications service revenue growth by 3.7 percentage points.”

He said the adoption and integration of 5G technology has spread to more than 40 sectors of China’s economy, including industry, healthcare, education and transportation.

In more than 100 cities and more than 1,000 industrial parks, 5G is helping hundreds of thousands of Chinese enterprises improve their global competitiveness in the global market, Zhao added.

The technology also supports the development of smart cities with real-time monitoring and control of traffic flow, energy consumption and environmental conditions, to help optimize resource allocation and improve quality of life.

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