China built 600,000 5G base stations in three months when it took US two years to build 100,000

The technology is not aimed at streaming high-quality videos but is helping businesses become more competitive.
Ameya Paleja
5G base station installation has accelerated in China
5G base station installation has accelerated in China

Bill Oxford/iStock 

China built a whopping 600,000 5G base stations in the last three months as it raced to achieve its target of three million before the end of the year, the South China Morning Post reported. In sharp contrast, the US built 100,000 base stations between 2019 and 2021.

5G is the terminology used to denote the fifth generation of mobile network technology that can support high-speed broadband internet with low latency. Unlike its predecessors, 5G mobile networks have massive network capacities and can deliver a uniform user experience.

Qualcomm, a primary provider of technology for mobile networks, estimates that 5G can potentially enable over US$13 trillion of economic output and create over 22 million jobs. China made the rollout of 5G networks a vital component of its push to boost economic growth and now boasts nearly three million base stations, according to government data.

5G penetration in China

As with any wireless technology, the number of base stations determines the coverage and capacity. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) set itself an ambitious goal of installing three million of them by the end of the year.

Over the last three months, more than 600,000 installations were completed to achieve the target six months prior and leaving the US far behind in absolute numbers of base stations.

As per the latest data, the country now has 2.937 million base stations that enable connections to 676 million devices and over two billion users of mobile Internet of Things (IoT) terminals such as smart home appliances, industrial sensors, and wearables, the SCMP report said.

In addition to the government push, the rapid expansion in the number of base stations is also thanks to the declining prices of 5G modules in the country. Currently, the module costs 400 yuan (US$ 55) and consumes about 20 percent lesser energy during operation when compared to its predecessors.

Infrastructure not for streaming videos

China built 600,000 5G base stations in three months when it took US two years to build 100,000
5G networks offer many more services than streaming videos

The rollout of 5G has been significantly slower in other parts of the globe since existing 4G networks have also been able to hit 5G-like speeds of 1 Gigabit per second. Since these speeds can address the current needs of consumers, doubts are being raised about whether investments in the 5G rollout are needed when economies are in turmoil.

Tao Qing, the director of MIIT, is not looking at 5G as a tool to enable the streaming of videos. Instead, the networks have led to the creation of digital workshops and smart factories where productivity has risen by a third.

Speaking to the SCMP, Tao added that factory product development cycles had reduced by a fifth while production efficiencies had improved by nearly 35 percent. Defective rates of products had decreased by 27 percent in these 5G-enabled smart factories, which was also contributing to a reduction in carbon emissions, she added.

Zhao Zhiguo, the spokesperson for MIIT, detailed that 5G adoption and integration was now a part of 40 sectors in China's economy. In more than 1,000 industrial parks, Chinese enterprises were using the technology to improve global competitiveness.

In areas where the technology is available, it is also being used to monitor traffic, environmental conditions, and energy consumption and execute smarter allocation of resources, the report said.

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