China Mobile targets 10,000 5G base stations in 2020

China Mobile’s plans for 5G are starting to crystallize. The operator continues to be part of many cutting edge tests and trials, with the latest being an end-to-end demonstration of 5G New Radio in partnership with Qualcomm and ZTE. However, the Chinese operators have sometimes had challenges in translating their advanced R&D into practical roadmaps, but China Mobile says it plans to have 10,000 5G base stations commercially deployed by the end of 2020.

The operator will start a large-scale trial next year, Guangyi Liu, wireless CTO for China Mobile’s research unit, told Huawei’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum in London last week. The MNO has almost 622m 4G subscribers and says it needs 5G to cope with even  larger numbers of users, consuming rising levels of data.

Guangyi Liu said:  “The regulator requires operators to reduce charges for customers but also increase data rates, and operators are starting to promote unlimited data for customers.” But the MNO needs to find a way to boost revenue so that the investment in capacity will generate profits too. It is working with industry partners to drive new revenue streams – for instance, collaborating with online retail giant Alibaba on trials of edge computing.

Its rival China Unicom has gone a step further with a new investment structure, in which digital and industrial majors are taking a stake in the operator, and will have influence over the way the 5G network is deployed to suit their particular vertical needs.

China Mobile has indicated that its initial roll-out will be in 3.5 GHz spectrum, which is also likely to underpin the first phase of many European deployments. It is also working on deploying 4G base stations now that are software-upgradeable to 5G when the standards are complete.

Although 10,000 base stations sounds a lot, in a relatively high band like 3.5 GHz, it will not cover a large part of the Chinese land mass – and it is not clear whether the figure includes small cells. Deutsche Telekom has indicated it will need 50,000 5G sites to cover Germany, which has only about 4% of the land mass of China.

In the test with Qualcomm and ZTE, China Mobile claims to have achieved the world’s first end-to-end 5G NR interoperability data testing (IoDT) system, demonstrating a data connection based on 3GPP Release 15 standard. The demo took place at the operator’s 5G Joint Innovation Center, and used ZTE’s 5G NR pre-commercial base station and Qualcomm’s 5G NR sub-6 GHz UE prototype.

The test system operates in 3.5 GHz and supports 100 MHz bandwidth, compliant with the 3GPP Release 15 Layer 1 framework, which includes scalable OFDM numerology, new advanced channel coding and modulation schemes, and low latency self-contained slot structure. Together this is all designed to achieve multi-Gbps peak data rates at significantly lower air interface latency than 4G.

Li Zhengmao, VP of China Mobile, said: “China Mobile is committed to promoting the unified global 5G standard with industry partners. The achievement of end-to-end 5G NR interoperable connection testing, compliant with the 3GPP 5G NR standard, is an important milestone of 5G standard to productization and pre-commercialization from standard. China Mobile is committed to working with other industry leaders, including Qualcomm Technologies and ZTE to promote that the 5G products continue to mature and the 5G industry marches to success.”